U.S. Army Cold Regions Test Center (CRTC) is the Department of Defense’s lone extreme cold test facility.
Able to test a wide variety of military systems in a natural environment where winter lows drop far below zero, the test workload includes items that literally constitute where the rubber meets the road.
Evaluators at CRTC are currently testing a candidate set of snow tires and tire chains that variants of the M915 6x4 line-haul tractor truck would be outfitted with to deliver military equipment in extreme cold weather.
“The tires we’re testing are currently running on these trucks in Alaska by special exception,” said Stephan Krueger, test officer. “We’re characterizing them so they can be adopted by the entire Army and run overseas. On top of that, they are looking at adopting a new style of tire chain.”
Using four different configurations of the tires and chains, the M915s’ performance is tested without a trailer, while pulling an empty trailer, and while pulling a fully-laden trailer. On one recent test day, the trailer was loaded down with extremely heavy weight.
“Each trailer has 67,000 pounds of payload on it,” said Krueger. “We put two Conex boxes full of reinforced concrete that our Allied Trades shop made on it to simulate that weight.”
Even extreme ice can’t be allowed to come between a military convoy and the Soldiers who depend on them, and CRTC can groom the tracks at their automotive test facility with astonishingly thick layers. The particulars of the ice cover on a given day are then characterized prior to the test using a friction meter mounted in a test support vehicle.
“Some days the ice is slicker than others, depending on temperature and wind, sun intake, moisture in the air, and a number of other factors,” said Sebastian Saarloos, range photographer. “We measure it just before the test so we know how slick the ice or snow is.”
During the test, the truck is expected to stay within a meticulously-measured 500 foot curving radius marked by orange cones when it suddenly brakes while going 30 miles per hour. In addition to such tests of its braking power on flat, sheer surfaces covered with ice and snow, the M915s are also put through its paces utilizing grades that are more than twice as steep as the highest incline an American motorist would find on an Interstate Highway in the Lower 48 states. If the driver stops halfway up a 15 percent grade, will the tires and chains provide enough traction to hold it still without skidding to the bottom? Soldiers’ lives and material well-being could count on the answer.
The data and insights gained by testing in a natural environment are far more comprehensive and true-to-life than what could be gathered placing the tires and chains in a cold conditioning chamber. Testing in an extreme natural environment, however, can cause weather delays to ensure accuracy of data, such as a week’s worth of fierce winter wind storms that halted testing one week. The most recent temperatures are still frigid by most standards, but augur Spring in the harsh interior of Alaska.
“Since we’re coming to the tail end of winter, we’re really trying to get the test in as fast as we can before we lose our snow field,” said Krueger.