DATC Spells Progress for Defense Prototyping

One of two prototype of aluminum armored-vehicle hulls, fabricated by CTC using its unique friction-stir welding capability; the company is upbeat about its experience with the DATC consortium designed to help cut the red tape in procuring government defense contracts. (CTC)

A slogging bureaucracy, miles of “red tape,” and a sea of acronyms are just some of the hurdles that keep many suppliers from working with the U.S. defense industry on ground vehicle projects. For years the government, led by the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), sought to develop a streamlined procurement process. Their aim was to speed the adoption of private-sector innovation, particularly for prototype development, while expanding access for smaller, non-traditional military suppliers.

Agilon performance silica tire developed by PPG to improve ground-vehicle fuel efficiency. (PPG)

A breakthrough came in 2016, when TARDEC partnered with SAE International’s Industry Technologies Consortia affiliate, to form the non-profit Defense Automotive Technologies Consortium. DATC currently has 190 members—70% of which are non-traditionals. The consortium serves as a gateway between the government and the auto industry for OTA Prototype projects. (OTAs, or Other Transaction Agreements, run for seven years, during which up to $700 million in projects can be awarded.)

The partnership is open to both traditional and non-traditional defense contractors; non-profits, and academic and research organizations. According to DATC executive director Dave Porreca, members benefit from reduced red tape and enhanced visibility. He said the technology focus is on cybersecurity; vehicle occupant protection; lightweighting; autonomous and connected vehicles and related systems; advanced energy storage; propulsion technologies, and active suspension technologies.

Access the directory of the current membership here .

In its first year, six DATC members collaborated on a successful proposal for the Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) prototype program, worth $237 million. Automotive Engineering wanted to learn more about how the consortium is working, so we contacted two suppliers—one a well-known automotive Tier 1, the other a defense-focused engineering firm—to find out.

PPG: advanced tire tech

Coatings, sealants and specialty-materials maker PPG is well known among mobility OEMs. Its products are also found in both air and ground military vehicles and weapon systems. As a DATC member, the company is working on advanced silica filler technology for military-vehicle tires, aimed at increasing fuel efficiency.

“We’ve had commercial success with these materials in the form of Agilon performance silica and are working with the Dept. of Energy (DoE) to transition the technology to truck and bus radial (TBR) tires,” noted Sarah Topper, proposal development manager at PPG’s Coatings Innovation Center in Allison Park, Pennsylvania.

“Compared to synthetic rubber passenger vehicle tires, TBR tires are predominantly natural rubber,” Topper explained, “which poses additional technical challenges to incorporate the silica. The primary goal is to enhance fuel-efficiency, but it must not be done at the expense of other critical metrics such as traction, wear resistance, braking, handling, and chip/chunk resistance.”

She said that while DoD ground vehicle tires are also primarily natural rubber, military requirements and applications differ from those of commercial trucks and buses. There is a greater need for on/off road capabilities, hot and cold weather environment performance, and overall mileage and lifetime requirements differ. The military tires require unique material design considerations. Performance testing must be done to military specs, she said.

Working with TARDEC within DATC, PPG’s collaborative focus has been on “enhancing survivability and reducing [the Army’s fuel] logistics burdens,” explained Topper. Membership in DATC “greatly facilitates our ability to respond to TARDEC needs and create, contract, and manage collaborative research projects,” Topper stated. She added that as a non-traditional defense contractor, PPG also gains access to potential automotive projects.

The project agreements PPG has with DATC have been collaboratively developed “to ensure the project’s technical scope was clearly defined and mutually agreed-upon by both PPG and DoD stakeholders.” During project execution, DATC directs monthly and quarterly progress updates to ensure the project remains on-scope and to minimize timeline slippage. They also serve as an interface to minimize bureaucracy associated with project-funding management, Topper noted.

The tire-silicas project is nearing its one-year mark. Phase 1 established a baseline tread model formulation for military tires with input from TARDEC and tire makers. PPG researchers used this formulation to evaluate baseline prototype silicas, with a focus on understanding the effects of the base silica particle properties. This work identified a prototype formula with 10% improved rolling resistance for continued development.

The team targeted surface treatment and manufacturing process changes in the development of a second set of prototype silicas. The goal is to improve dispersion of the silica and optimize mixing in the rubber formulation. The project will conclude with on-vehicle performance testing of prototype tires for fuel economy and a range of dynamic-performance criteria, as well as mechanical reliability, Topper told AE.

CTC: friction-stir welding

The Concurrent Technologies Corp. is a non-profit R&D firm whose roots are in advanced metalworking technologies. Based in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, CTC has expanded over the years to include expertise in advanced IT, readiness and training, and energy and environment technologies. The company brings friction-stir welding of thick-plate aluminum—a robust construction which interests the Army for future armored personnel carriers.

“We have unique capabilities in fabricating lightweight vehicles with high survivability,” said PJ McMullen, manager of advanced technologies. One of those is a machine that’s capable of friction-stir-welding an entire vehicle hull. “The machine offers 26 feet of longitudinal stir-head travel and can move 13 feet vertically,” he said. “It can weld high-strength 2000-series aluminum plate, up to 3¼-inches thick, in a single pass.” Recent underbody blast tests of CTC’s two prototype hulls showed no blast intrusion—and no measured fatalities.

How does the DATC process compare with the previous process, in terms of things being better for suppliers? “We have more flexibility and the process is faster,” said Michele Stosick, CTC’s senior proposal lead. She said that under the old firm-fixed-price system before DATC, “it would sometimes take a year or 18 months before we’d receive a reply. By comparison, the consortia’s turn-around timeframe is sometimes six months.

“That really benefits our bottom line, knowing when we submit our white papers and proposals we’ll be notified about whether we get the work this calendar year or fiscal year versus a year or two down the road. The consortia really helps us with planning and the bottom line,” she said.