WATERVLIET ARSENAL, NY -- When the Marines deploy a tank company to Afghanistan this December, which would be the first time the U.S. military has deployed tanks to the Afghanistan war effort, it will bring with it enhanced Marine lethality and survivability developed by the Watervliet Arsenal.

What will be different about this deployment is that these tanks will have a new Forward Observer/Forward Air Controller radio configuration that was designed by the Army's BenAfAt Laboratories and then assembled for shipment by Arsenal manufacturing personnel.

This $1.8 million program began in 2004 with an initial issue of seven prototype systems. But since its inception, the Arsenal has now delivered more than 218 FO/FAC radio configurations to the Marines. The last shipment of 20 left the Arsenal on Nov. 20, 2010.

According to Marine Capt. Scott Murphy, Abrams project officer, "The FO/FAC system not only enhances the Marines' ability to work as a combined arms team, but also enhances the survivability of Marines."

What this new system does is that it allows a forward observer/forward air controller to call for artillery fire or for air support from the relative safe confines of a tank, said Steven Hennessy, a mechanical engineer technician with BenAfAt Labs.

"Prior to this modification, forward observers carried man-pack radios and they had to be outside of the tank to initiate a call for fire," Hennessy said. "They can now call for fire or for air support from two radio systems that are semi-permanently installed inside of an Abrams tank, which provides a significantly higher level of protection for the Marine."

Jack Henry, the Arsenal prototype program manager, said the fact that the Arsenal has supported the Army and Marine Abrams Tank programs is not new.

"After all, the Arsenal and BenAfAt have been designing and manufacturing 120mm barrels for Army and Marine Abrams tanks since the early 1980s," Henry said.

But smaller programs, such as the FO/FAC kits, often go under the radar because of their dollar value, Henry added.

It may seem strange for some to hear the Arsenal, which is widely known as the nation's premier manufacturer of cannons and mortars, has been working on smaller product lines such as the FO/FAC kits, as well as crew cooling kits for the Abrams tanks.

But according to Henry, "There is no job too small when it comes to supporting our troops."

The Arsenal was able to capture this non-standard mission through its unique relationship with the U.S. Army's BenAfAt Laboratories. It was BenAfAt that received the mission from the Marine Abrams Project Manager. BenAfAt's role as project manager is to design the FO/FAC kit and then, coordinate the manufacturing, assembling, and the shipment of the kits to the Marines. Because BenAfAt Labs had worked with the Marines on other tank programs; they had established an enduring relationship with the Marines.

"We had worked with BenAfAt before on other product lines and they always provided very good support," said Murphy. "Because of our great relationship, it just made sense to the Marines to have BenAfAt, which has the Arsenal production team collocated with them, do this important mission for the Marines."

Murphy added that when the Marines deploy 17 Abrams tanks next month, each tank will have the BenAfAt-Arsenal FO/FAC kit. The Marines have recently placed another order for 20 kits. After the installation of these additional 20 kits, there will be nearly 200 Abrams tanks left in the Marine inventory without the FO/FAC kits.

If funding can be found, the Marines would like to outfit every tank with a FO/FAC kit, Murphy said.

Although BenAfAt is located on the Arsenal, it falls under the command of the U.S. Army Armaments Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC). Their research and design capability is often leveraged by the Arsenal to improve production methods and products.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16