Around Charlotte, North Carolina, there’s a pocket of auto parts manufacturers that usually spend their time catering to NASCAR. Now, they’re teaming up with the Army’s Special Operations Command to make commandos’ vehicles faster, lighter, safer, and more efficient.
Military officials are hoping the engineers of these companies, with their specialized skill sets, will help the Pentagon get the most for their money, especially as Congress talks about a near one-trillion-dollar cut in defense spending over the next decade.
The possibilities are out there. Corvid Technologies uses high-fidelity physics and a supercomputer to design and evaluate their vehicles, according to National Defense Magazine. If they could configure the program to simulate the effects of roadside bombs on military tactical vehicles, the Army might be able to keep a few test vehicles from being blown up on a proving ground. Something as simple as replacing the steel panels on vehicles with composites such as carbon fiber could reduce the vehicle’s weight by up to 70 percent, according to Hans deBot, president of deBotech Inc., making it quicker and more maneuverable.
Two years ago, when the auto racing industry and military had just begun courting each other, the North Carolina Military Foundation published a prospectus outlining strategies for boosting the state’s economy through National Defense contributions. At the time, racing engineers had already developed suspension systems for mine rollers, seating protection infrastructure, and rapid refueling and repair procedures. “Additional opportunities for crossover application include restraints, communications systems and synergies between clothing and performance textiles,” the report said.
While design and production timetables for projects like these could be greatly reduced with the help of North Carolina’s brightest gearheads, it’s hard to tell if their efficiency will result in affordable production costs. Compared to the military-industrial complex’s usual behemoths, these specialized motorsport manufacturers are like boutique shops — their products are high in quality, as any NASCAR race will prove, but very expensive, at least for now.
But let expenses be damned, I say, because the Brits have challenged us. Chris Aylett, chief executive of the Motorsport Industry Association, told National Defense Magazine that the U.K. and its Formula 1 racing community are more technologically advanced than U.S. motorsport companies. Truth be told, they do seem to have gotten a bit of a head start — British racing companies have already engineered a foldable bridge that also works as a stretcher and ladder, the Ocelot (similar to the American Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle), and a cooling system more commonly found in Ferrari and Jaguar racecars that has been reconfigured to work in military vehicles.
That’s all very clever, but I think we should each build the biggest, baddest, fastest tank that we can and then have Jimmie Johnson race against Lewis Hamilton to settle our colonial differences (and the NASCAR vs. Formula 1 debate) once and for all.