ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala.-Depot production of the Assault Breacher Vehicle revved up Monday when the first plow-equipped tank was shipped to the Marines.Anniston is supporting the United States Marine Corps' effort to better protect its combat engineers in the minefields with this initial order of 28 ABVs, a job that started in late 2007.The ABV, built new here by government civilians, is another example of the depot's capability to do more than just overhaul and repair worn legacy combat vehicles and artillery. Anniston is also able to build vehicles from scratch.For instance, the Joint Assault Bridge is in production here, and the depot has partnered with General Dynamics to build all variants of the Stryker vehicle while Honeywell is manufacturing new AGT 1500 engines here for the Egyptian government.Anniston first saw the ABV concept in 2002 after the Marines designed it, said USMC ABV project officer J.F. Augustine. The Marines chose Anniston as their sole provider of ABVs for two reasons: cost and capability."By running this as a government integration, a government build, we (USMC) saved
taxpayers millions of dollars. ANAD has the expertise to refurbish M1A1 hulls for our purposes, then grew the capability to fabricate the turret and do the final assembly," said Augustine.The design and function of the ABV, with its M1 chassis, .50-caliber machine gun and front-mounted mine plow, is similar to the Army's Grizzly vehicle, a prototype developed in the 1990s that never made it to the production lines.Five ABVs were built before Anniston was given the go-ahead in November 2007 to begin full-rate production on the current order. All five succeeded operational tests by February 2007. So far, two ABVs are in use by the Marines at the ABV Operator and Maintainer course at Fort Knox, Ky. Fielding to the Marines begins this month, said Augustine.Members of the USMC 1st Combat Engineer Battalion at Camp Pendleton, Calif., were on depot this week to inspect three of Anniston's ABVs. Marine Corps Sgt. Earl Hewett said the vehicles will be used for training during the coming year before and if these particular ABVs are sent to the Middle East."We still need to train on them a lot before we deploy with them," said Hewett, who has trained on other ABVs alongside operators and mechanics in his mobile assault company.
Before the Marines had the ABV to breach minefields, some conditions forced them to follow alongside an amphibious tractor on foot to light the fuse and clear the path for thru-traffic."The ABV makes the combat engineering mission a hundred times easier as far as breaking minefields," said Hewett.Fabrication of parts by depot machinists, mechanics and welders plays a large part in the manufacturing of these vehicles, said Dave Sok, the ABV production program analyst here employed by contractor NLCF, LLC.Though the ABV is considered a newly built vehicle and not part of the depot's normal overhaul workload, workers here are disassembling the M1 Abrams main battle tank, overhauling the chassis and marrying it up to an Anniston-fabricated ABV turret to make an ABV for the Marines, said Sok.The M1 chassis is the basic platform for the brand-new ABV. The tanks were once owned by the Army and given to the USMC for this program. "These are older configuration vehicles that are excess to the Army's needs," said Sok.Sok and James Coley, the depot's program manager for the ABV, said the depot plans to start production on another ABV order next year for the Army's use."This is just the beginning of a healthy workload for the depot's out-years," said Coley.