Driver/Operator Training: This Is Not Your Mom’s Minivan
Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
The M1A2 Abrams comes in several different models and, depending on options, weighs between 61.4 tons and 73.6 tons. Its turbine engine produces 1,500 shaft horsepower for a top speed of 42 mph and 30 mph over rough terrain. This tank has an Allison DDA-X-100-3B transmission with four forward and two reverse gears and a cross drive that integrates steering and braking. It’s equipped with seating for four and has a couple of options for exterior paint colors, including Desert Sand and Camouflage Green. Oh, did I forget to mention the driver and passenger protection options, which include a 120 mm smoothbore main gun and its side kick, an M2HB .50-calibre machine gun at the commander’s station? It’s just a little more than 31 feet long with the main gun forward. For fuel economy, the M1A2 is rated at 1.67 gallons per mile cross-country; and at idle, it only burns 10 gallons per hour with a 504.4-gallon fuel tank. All of this can be yours for $8.92 million, not including dealer add-ons, fees, tags, title and taxes.
By comparison, your mom’s minivan seats eight and is equipped with a 3.6-liter, 287 horsepower, V6 engine. It has a 19-gallon fuel tank that gets 19/28 miles per gallon (city/highway) and a nine-speed automatic transmission with all-wheel drive. Mom’s ride weighs 6,055 pounds when fully loaded with passengers and is just short of 17 feet long. This minivan costs about $50,000 with all the bells and whistles.
While the difference in gas mileage is significant (Mom’s minivan goes farther on a tank of gas, even in the city), it pales in comparison to the difference in skills required to operate these two vehicles. The M1A2 is not a vehicle you learn to drive by taking a driver’s education class in high school.
In fiscal 2020, the Army lost 12 Soldiers in 10 on-duty ground mishaps involving government motor vehicles (GMV), which include Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks (HEMTTs) and High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs). An additional six Soldiers were injured in these incidents. Not all of these mishaps involved a lack of driver training or driver experience; however, of the mishaps that the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center (USACRC) investigated, the cause was often a direct result of inadequate or a lack of driver training at the unit level. An in-depth review of the unit’s driver training program was either a present and contributing factor or a present but not contributing factor in the majority of GMV mishaps investigated.
When the crew of an M1A2 is all “buttoned up,” the driver has three observation periscopes, or two periscopes on either side and a central image intensifying periscope for night vision. The periscopes provide a 120 degree field of view for the driver. This is far different from the view the average private motor vehicle operator is familiar with and requires specific training to develop the skills needed to operate the M1A2 under these conditions. A breakdown of a recent mishap investigation conducted by the USACRC revealed the following: Present and contributing
During the operation of an M1A2 System Enhancement Package in a maneuver training area while conducting a platoon situational training exercise (STX), the driver inadvertently struck a dead tree. The driver did not scan all three of the vehicle’s periscopes, which prevented him from seeing the tree to his left front. This failure to execute an effective scan was in contravention to the guidance published in Training Circular (TC) 21-306, Tracked Vehicle Combat Driver Training, dated June 2019. As a result, the left side of the tank struck the tree and caused it to fall away from the vehicle. Unfortunately, a 3-foot section from the top of the tree fell in the opposite direction and onto the turret, striking the tank commander in the head and resulting in a fatal brain injury.
A review of this mishap revealed driver fixation on the center periscope, inadequate supervision related to a failure to identify a fault in the tank communications system, and a failure to provide proper driver training. Based on the position of the dead tree and the tank’s direction of travel, the driver was fixated on the view through the front periscope and was not scanning the left and right periscopes as he maneuvered across the training area. The tree would have been visible through the left periscope.
Post-mishap technical inspections of the tank’s internal communication system indicated the driver’s combat vehicle crewman helmet’s right speaker was not operational. Although the cadre member in charge of the tank instructed the driver to turn right, the driver stated he could not hear the order until a point just before the tank struck the tree. Inoperative internal communication equipment rendered the M1A2 not mission capable; however, the crew did not identify the issue and still operated the vehicle during the platoon STX.
While the driver held an Optional Form (OF) 346 learner permit for the M1A2, the cadre did not conduct Phase I training required by Army Regulation (AR) 600-55 to standard. The lesson plan for driver training in the Armor Basic Officer Leader Course did not support the current requirements outlined in both AR 600-55 and TC 21-306. These issues led to the conclusion that the prerequisite training for the operation of the tank contributed to the driver’s failure to employ an effective scan in a manner necessary to operate the vehicle in a safe manner. Conclusion
Although this mishap was somewhat of an anomaly, we can still see the importance of conducting thorough driver/operator training. It takes a lot to stop a 70-ton tank. As a crew, you have to be aware of your surroundings and the potential dangers of driving through and over objects in your path. Inoperative communication equipment, inadequate crew coordination, an inexperienced driver and a failure to adhere to standards led up to the unnecessary death of a Soldier in this mishap.