U.S. Army Uses Alcoa Defense to Develop Prototype for Lighter, More Fuel Efficient Military Vehicles

October 25, 2010

WASHINGTON–Alcoa Defense has applied innovative technology it developed for
high-performance cars and the aerospace market in a project for the U.S.
Army showcasing the ability of aluminum to make the next generation of
military vehicle lighter, faster, stronger – and more fuel efficient.

Alcoa (NYSE:AA) has created an aluminum structure for the Army’s
Fuel-Efficient Ground Vehicle Demonstrator (FED) that will make the
vehicle up to 10 percent lighter than a comparably sized steel vehicle
and reduce fuel consumption by 6-7 percent because the lighter vehicle
frame enables a lighter engine, driveline and chassis. Alcoa supplied
the FED’s aluminum chassis and cab structure with integral underbody
armor protection to Ricardo Inc., the project’s lead engineering
contractor. During the initial stages of design, Alcoa collaborated with
Ricardo to determine which Alcoa solutions could best help achieve FED’s

The FED project was launched by the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research,
Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in 2008 to develop a
prototype vehicle that would showcase fuel efficient technologies, while
maintaining the vehicle’s performance, payload capacity and protection
of soldiers. If the Army, which operates the world’s largest fleet of
ground vehicles, can improve fuel efficiency by just one percent, it
will result in 6,000 fewer soldiers being put at risk by driving highly
targeted fuel convoys in combat locations.

Lightweighting military vehicles via aluminum structures also enhances
performance, which is why platforms that traditionally require maximum
speed and agility, such as airplanes and sports cars, incorporate many
aluminum technologies that originated with Alcoa. For instance, lighter
aluminum vehicles can accelerate and brake faster than their heavier,
steel-intensive counterparts. Additionally, aluminum is up to 50 percent
lighter, yet provides more structural stiffness than steel.

“FED represents the first time we have been able to integrate a
comprehensive suite of Alcoa’s lightweighting technologies into one
vehicle,” said Alcoa Defense President Dave Dobson. “We are excited to
have the opportunity to showcase all of our technologies for making
vehicles lighter, faster and stronger in one groundbreaking platform.”

In addition to a welded aluminum spaceframe, other Alcoa
innovations on the FED vehicle include:

  • An interchangeable aluminum blast and brush shield reduces curb
    weight. The strong aluminum blast shield that protects the underside
    of the vehicle can be switched to a thinner brush shield for use in
    non-combat environments to save on fuel. The blast shield was designed
    with Alcoa’s 2040 aluminum armor, a high-strength alloy that
    doesn’t fracture and resists blasts without failure or cracking. This
    is the first time that alloy 2040 has ever been used on a vehicle.
    Additionally, the blast shield is connected directly to the FED’s
    rocker panels
    beneath the doors and wheel wells. The rocker panels
    are load bearing, so integrating the blast shield directly into the
    vehicle structure gives it additional strength, which better protects
    the soldiers in the cab.
  • Instead of a conventional chassis design with frame rails on each side
    of the vehicle the FED cab is integrated directly into the front
    and rear chassis modules
    without frame rails. By eliminating the
    redundant frame rail components that typically connect the cab with
    the front and rear chassis modules, the weight of the vehicle is
    reduced while still maintaining its strength.
  • To increase survivability in combat environments, the FED vehicle
    features Alcoa’s CR56 aluminum alloy armor in both integral and
    appliqué (add-on) armor applications, providing excellent ballistic
    and blast performance protection.
  • To reduce weight and increase payload, new forged aluminum wheels
    were added to the FED vehicle. The wheels perform reliably in harsh
    conditions and provide substantial weight savings compared to
    conventional steel wheels. Aluminum wheels reduce tire rolling
    resistance by up to three percent compared to a comparably sized steel
    wheel, which results in one percent fuel savings, quicker acceleration
    and improved braking performance. Additionally, a lighter wheel
    assembly helps compensate for the weight of armor added to vehicles
    that were originally manufactured without armor. Finally, the lighter
    the suspension and wheels, the better the grip when tracking over
    rough terrain, which improves handling during hard acceleration or
  • Pioneered by Alcoa on the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected All-Terrain
    Vehicle by Oshkosh, the FED will feature aluminum suspension
    components and mounting structure
    that can withstand harsh
    environments and difficult terrain. Forged aluminum suspension
    components deliver strength equivalent to steel at dramatically lower
    weight. One-piece aluminum forgings also eliminate welding, require
    minimal machining, easily bolt into place and reduce parts count
    significantly, which improves quality and streamlines the OEM
    manufacturing and supply chain process.
  • Many structural components of the FED vehicle are joined with Alcoa’s
    TM fasteners, which deliver strong
    joints without compromising the integrity of the materials, which can
    occur with conventional welding techniques. In addition, they enhance
    long-term vehicle durability by maintaining joint strength when
    absorbing sudden impacts.
  • Alcoa also used friction stir welding, a specialized welding
    technique which improves quality by reducing weld-induced distortion,
    to join several aluminum alloys. Friction stir welding also
    allowed Alcoa to weld the thick aluminum plates that were integral to
    the vehicle’s blast shield. Alcoa has the expertise to help defense
    and commercial OEMs integrate aluminum components with high-quality
    friction-stir welds in their platforms.

With Alcoa’s all-aluminum cab and chassis structure serving as the
vehicle’s foundation, Ricardo Inc. will integrate all other technologies
and components into the vehicle, which is scheduled to debut at the
Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Winter Symposium and
Exposition in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

TARDEC embarked on the FED project to help achieve the Army’s long-term
goal of reducing fuel consumption on the battlefield and its dependence
on oil. The innovative solutions featured in the FED vehicle may become
widely adopted by other military branches to enhance fuel efficiency in
the next generation of tactical wheeled vehicles.

To demonstrate that FED’s aluminum technologies can be cost-effectively
incorporated into future vehicle fleets, Alcoa built the prototype
structure with the same cost-reduction considerations it applies to all
OEM platforms. For instance, whenever possible, Alcoa uses aluminum
product forms, such as forgings, extrusions and castings, that
streamline production and decrease machining costs because their shapes
very closely match the structures final form. To further reduce costs
and streamline manufacturing for OEMs that typically specialize in steel
structures, Alcoa also constructs aluminum subassemblies or full
structures that OEMs can integrate into their vehicles. This support
capability makes it much easier for OEMs to use the technologies
featured in FED in production vehicles.

About Alcoa Defense

Alcoa Defense partners with industry leaders to design systems and
materials that increase the speed, reach, agility and survivability of
military platforms. In addition to delivering lightweight, innovative
solutions in multiple product forms, Alcoa Defense manufactures
subassemblies, prototypes and complete aluminum structures that original
equipment manufacturers can integrate into their platforms for land, air
and sea. More information can be found at AlcoaDefense.com.

About Alcoa

Alcoa is the world’s leading producer of primary aluminum, fabricated
aluminum and alumina. In addition to inventing the modern-day aluminum
industry, Alcoa innovation has been behind major milestones in the
aerospace, automotive, packaging, building and construction, commercial
transportation, consumer electronics and industrial markets over the
past 120 years. Among the solutions Alcoa markets are flat-rolled
products, hard alloy extrusions, and forgings, as well as Alcoa® wheels,
fastening systems, precision and investment castings, and building
systems in addition to its expertise in other light metals such as
titanium and nickel-based super alloys. Sustainability is an integral
part of Alcoa’s operating practices and the product design and
engineering it provides to customers. Alcoa has been a member of the Dow
Jones Sustainability Index for nine consecutive years and approximately
75 percent of all of the aluminum ever produced since 1888 is still in
active use today. Alcoa employs approximately 59,000 people in 31
countries across the world. More information can be found at www.alcoa.com.