By Michael F. Carmichael
Aug. 18, 2011
|FED Alpha on display in a courtyard at the Pentagon.
A few weeks ago visitors to the Pentagon found what looked like a modified Humvee parked in their courtyard. It was not an ordinary one, modified for some special task. It was a prototype, labeled FED Alpha, of a new breed of thinking in the military. It was there at the Pentagon, prior to going on field tests, to show the nation’s top brass – and hopefully members of Congress who provide the funding for this kind of thing – that a surprisingly small part of the Army’s R&D budget is being spent by some relatively young engineers on reducing our dependence on foreign oil by thinking outside the box.
FED stands for Fuel-Efficient Ground Vehicle Demonstrator and there are two versions: Alpha and Bravo (well, you can’t change military thinking completely.)
Alpha was developed using an innovative twist to the traditional process while Bravo was the creation of what is known as the “Monster Garage.” More on that later.
Carl Johnson is the team leader of the FED program. He explains that for the Alpha truck one of his first breaks with tradition was to take four of his engineers and place them on-site with Ricardo, his outside engineering contractor. Ricardo is an international engineering company that is headquartered in England and is a component of the tech sector of their version of the Dow Jones Industrials. They also have a strong presence in the Detroit area and do a lot of engineering projects for the “Detroit Three.”
“We call them our ‘embedded engineers,’” Johnson says, adding with a chuckle that his group is composed of engineers, not creative types, so he used that phrase “for lack of a better term.” He continues with an explanation of how things usually go. “Normally, we let a contract, the contractor goes away and does the work, then comes back to us with a product.” By embedding his engineers, Johnson saved time and money by ensuring that the engineers at Ricardo were well versed in the unusual demands of a military truck in need of much better fuel economy than its predecessors.