The U.S. Marine Corps Systems Command has reported that Utility Task Vehicles are undergoing several upgrades designed to improve the safety and performance of the vehicle.
According to a recent service news release, using critical feedback from Marines and taking inspiration spanning the automotive industry to desert racing, engineers and logisticians from the Light Tactical Vehicle program office at Program Executive Officer Land Systems have been working diligently to research, test, procure and implement changes to the UTV. These changes include high clearance control arms, new run-flat tires, floorboard protection, a road march kit, a clutch improvement kit and an environmental protection cover.
“We bought the vehicle as a [commercial-off-the-shelf] solution, so it’s not going to have everything we want right from the factory,” said Jason Engstrom, lead systems engineer for the UTV at PEO Land Systems.
Since PEO Land Systems started fielding the UTV in 2017, Marines have consistently pushed the limits of their vehicles, said Engstrom, in many ways beyond what is expected or imagined with a typical off-the-shelf solution.
“Even though we’re in the operations, maintenance and sustainment phases with the vehicle, it’s such a new vehicle and we’re seeing Marines constantly push the limits of the truck,” said Engstrom. “Every day we’re seeing Marines come up with new ideas on how to use the truck.”
High Clearance Control Arms
The first of these upgrades involves installing high clearance control arms on the vehicle—a crucial component of the vehicle’s suspension system.
“With the different types of terrain Marines cover in these vehicles, we noticed the [original] control arms were frequently getting bent,” said Engstrom. “Rocks were probably the biggest hazard, and that’s primarily where the Marines were driving.”
A bent or damaged control arm can disable a vehicle, said UTV logistician Rodney Smith. To address this issue, the team looked to industry and ultimately settled on a control arm comprised of material about twice as strong as the original control arms and that provided an extra 2.5 inches of clearance.
With this upgrade, Marines are better equipped to drive off the beaten path while minimizing their risk of damaging the control arms on their vehicles.
Clutch Improvement Kit
The UTV team is also outfitting the vehicle with a clutch improvement kit. The UTV’s clutch is an important component of the vehicle’s transmission system, which is essential in making the vehicle run.
“One of the things that came right from the factory was a belt-driven [transmission] system,” said Engstrom. “Just like with the control arms, a broken belt takes the whole vehicle out of action.”
The upgraded clutch kit reconfigures the clutch system, enabling it to better engage the belt to keep it from breaking, said Engstrom.
The team has also began upgrading the vehicle’s floorboard, which showed evidence of damage after a recent deployment.
“When Marines deployed the vehicles to Australia, they found that high-density sticks and branches on the ground have the potential to pop up and puncture the plastic floorboard, which is a safety hazard,” said Engstrom.
Upon receiving this feedback from Marines, the UTV team researched and tested various potential materials to use in protecting the floorboard.
“We wanted to find a solution that kept the weight down because putting too much weight in the design of the vehicle—like a reinforced floorboard—impacts the amount of cargo Marines can carry on it,” said Smith. “Every pound counts.”
For the UTV’s tire upgrades, the team turned to a novel source for inspiration: the Baja off-road racing industry.
“There’s a new approach to run-flat technology—called ‘Tireballs’,” said Engstrom. “Inside each tire are 16 inflatable cells, so if any one cell pops from running over a spike or nail, you’d still have 15 other cells full of air to continue driving on.”
This, said Engstrom, significantly enhances the UTV’s operational readiness for Marines, allowing them to go farther for longer in the UTV. Along with the Tireballs, the team selected an upgraded tire from BF Goodrich that is more durable than the previous, exceeding performance requirements in various environments that mimic the challenging terrains Marines face.
“The Baja racers are using these tires now while completing 1000-mile races out in the desert,” said Engstrom. “We decided it would be a good upgrade for Marines.”
Environmental Protection Cover
The Environmental Protection Cover, another upgrade to the UTV, provides Marines with protection from the elements while they’re out in the field.
“Have you ever been in a convertible on a hot, sunny day and put the roof up? That’s exactly what this is,” said UTV engineer Christopher Swift. “It’s necessary after being out in the field 8-12 hours a day in the hot sun, especially if it’s the only shelter available.”
Road March Kit
The team started fielding the UTV’s Road March Kit—comprising turn signals, a horn, and a rearview mirror—last March. Marines from III Marine Expeditionary Force requested these features be added for safety, especially when transitioning between training areas on roads also used by civilian motorists.
The Road March Kit upgrade, along with the other vehicle upgrades, underscores the importance Marines’ user feedback is to the acquisition professionals tasked with delivering products to the warfighter.
“We try to meet customer needs within the requirement [determined by Marine Corps Combat Development and Integration],” said UTV Team Lead Lorrie Owens. “If we can meet the customers’ need to make it more reliable and durable, we will certainly do so within the realm of the requirement.”
The UTV team is taking advantage of the vehicle’s general maintenance schedule to implement the upgrades, which will be done alongside regular maintenance and services.