Rubber Tracks Make Military Vehicles More Efficient, Durable, and Quieter

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Rubber tracks on a military tank.

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Looks More Like a Toy, but Performs Better

Close up of black rubber tires on military vehicle.

NKTN / Getty Images

Recently, we wrote about the fuel consumption of some common US military vehicles (f.ex., the M2A3 and M3A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles get about 1.7 MPG and the M1A1 Abrams Battle Tank gets about 0.6 MPG). This matters because we're not talking about small amounts of fuel: according to NPR, all the tanks, planes and ships of the U.S. military burn about 340,000 barrels of oil per day, making it the "single-largest purchaser and consumer of oil in the world."

One way to make tracked vehicles both more eco-friendly and safer and more comfortable for the people inside them is to use new high-tech rubber tracks. Read on for more details.

The Economist has an interesting piece about this in their technology quarterly edition. But let's start from the beginning...

The Washing-Machine, and Not a Delicate Cycle

Tracks on a military vehicle.

Igor Borisenko / Getty Images

Most tracked military vehicles use tracks with metal plates. This has several inconvenients, including severe vibrations (some soldiers call Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) washing-machines) that are bad both for the health of the people inside and for the mechanical health of vehicles, leading to more frequent breakdowns.

These metal tracks are also bad for roads, causing a lot of damage that must be repaired, and they wear out fast. "On average, the segments of a steel track must be repaired or replaced after just 400 km (250 miles) of use." The new rubber tracks last more than 3,000 km (1865 miles) before they need to be replaced.

Fuel economy is also affected: Metal tracks are heavy, and you also need to carry replacement tracks, which means you need a beefier suspension. All things considered, rubber tracks could improve fuel economy by about 1/3, according to TACOM, the American army’s Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command. That's significant when you think about what kind of MPG Tanks and APCs get.

Rubber tracks also provide more traction, in part because, being lighter, they can be made wider than steel tracks. That means vehicles fitted with them do not get stuck in the mud. The vehicles accelerate faster, too, and drivers say they handle almost as well on paved roads as wheeled vehicles do. On top of this, they are quieter.

The only problem is that so far these rubber tracks (many of which are made in Quebec, Canada, by Soucy International) are not yet strong enough for 50-tonne battle tanks. But they are getting there, and already some 30-tonne vehicles are being tested with them.

Via The Economist