DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich. -- The Army’s Joint Assault Bridge (JAB) program aimed at modernizing the Engineer Regiment’s vehicle-mounted bridging capabilities in November successfully completed Initial Operational Test (IOT). With IOT in the books, the JAB program is closing the gap in fielding with the First Unit Equipped, the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan., in March 2021.
In addition to being named First Unit Equipped, the 1/1 ID also put the JAB through its paces during the recent IOT.
More mobile and survivable than its predecessors, the JAB will be a major asset modernizing the Army’s bridging inventory. Current Army plans call for the JAB to replace all Wolverine and Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges (AVLB) in Active, National Guard, and Reserve units.
During the operational test of force-on-force training, Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, and 1st Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division conducted more than 40 natural gap crossings and 22 combined-arms breaches of anti-vehicle tactical obstacles. The Maneuver Support and Sustainment Test Directorate, U.S. Army Operational Test Command, Fort Hood, Texas, led the operational test.
“The amount of hands-on training we received really gave all of us confidence in the equipment and our capabilities going into the field,” said Sgt. Molly Atkinson, a vehicle commander from 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Engineer Battalion, 1/1 ID.
Soldiers received detailed and all-inclusive new equipment operator training, field-level maintenance new equipment training, and training on doctrine, tactics and techniques during the weeks leading up to the operational test.
“Gap crossings and breaching operations are complex missions that require our engineer assets to work in concert with maneuver,” said Capt. Mitchell Ables, Bravo company commander, 1st Engineer Battalion. “The JAB allowed us to maintain tempo throughout.”
Another Company Commander, Capt. Stephen Schnorf, of Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1/1 ID, said, “The opportunity for us to conduct combined-arms breaching operations on this scale, with this much land, assets, and time, while simultaneously testing the JAB, was a win-win.”
According to Timothy G. Goddette, the Army’s program executive officer for Combat Support & Combat Support, IOT is a critical part of the acquisition process. “IOT is conducted on production-representative equipment to determine if the systems are operationally effective and suitable before fielding to our Soldiers. IOT also is the final step in moving a program into Full Rate Production,” he explained.
“We are grateful to the 1/1 ID for putting the JAB through its paces during IOT, and are very excited to field the first JABs to them. A significant point about this program is that each Army component will receive JABs to modernize its respective bridging capability,” Goddette said.
“Hats off as well to the Operational Test Command, the Engineer School, DRS, our industry partner that teamed with Anniston Army Depot and all the stakeholders -- this was a total team effort. In my 39-year Army career, the JAB sets the gold standard for conducting an IOT,” he added.
What’s more, IOT was conducted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which presented challenges more comprehensive than normal for stakeholders involved in the testing. Undaunted, the entire team, comprised of 1/1 ID Soldiers, representatives of the Operational Test Command, the Bridging Product Management Office, the JAB manufacturer, Leonardo DRS, along with support personnel hailing from U.S. Army Garrison-Fort Riley, ensured stringent health and safety measures were observed as operational testing progressed. As a result, testing went off as planned, was completed on time, and the JAB program anticipates a favorable Operational Test Agency Evaluation Report.
“The dedication of the entire team at Fort Riley to guarantee IOT remained safe, on schedule, and prove out all the elements of the test plan has and continues to ensure the program moves forward to a Full Rate Production Decision and FUE,” said Elizabeth Miller, the Army’s product manager, Bridging.
The JAB will provide the Engineer Regiment survivable, deployable and sustainable heavy-assault-bridging capability. It will provide a gap-crossing capability to cross wet or dry gaps providing freedom of maneuver on the battlefield and keep pace with maneuver forces. It consists of an M1A1 Abrams tank hull with heavy (M1A2) suspension, a hydraulic Bridge Launch Mechanism and the Heavy Assault Scissor Bridge.
“The Joint Assault Bridge is important to the Army because it replaces an aged fleet of assault bridging that the Army can no longer sustain, said Shawn D. Howley, Ph.D., deputy commandant, U.S. Army Engineer School, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
“The M60A2 tank chassis is the foundation of the 30-year-old Assault Vehicle Launched Bridge system, and parts are difficult to find. It is important to have a base platform like the M1 chassis with common parts with the armor community,” he added.
The JAB’s operational capabilities include a Military Load Classification of 115 Normal, 124 Caution; a span of 18-plus meters; and maneuverability comparable to the M1A1 Abrams and the Assault Breacher Vehicle.
According to Miller, next steps call for Full Rate Production and delivery from Fiscal Year 21 through 27, followed by First Unit Equipped fielding with 1/1 ID in March. At present, the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment’s Brigade Engineering Battalion, Tennessee Army National Guard, is slated to receive JABs in mid-2021.
Fielding plans with the Army Reserve are in progress.
The Army’s Product Manager, Bridging, part of Program Executive Office Combat Support and Combat Service Support (PEO CS&CSS), headquartered here, manages the JAB and other military bridging programs. PEO CS&CSS’ nearly 1,500 military and civilian acquisition professionals are stationed in four states and manage the full complement of processes associated with the cost, schedule, and performance of approximately 20 percent of the Army’s equipment programs spanning the Engineer, Ordnance, Quartermaster, and Transportation portfolios. The PEO is positioned to bolster Soldier capability by accelerating modernized equipment to the field, approximately 30 percent of PEO CS&CSS resources are aligned to enable Cross-Functional Team-equipped formations through 30 percent of current PEO CS&CSS programs.
Author’s note: Maj. Eric V. McDonald, Test & Evaluation Officer, Maneuver Support and Sustainment Test Directorate, U.S. Army Operational Test Command, contributed to this article.