HANOVER, N.H. – Researchers from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s (ERDC) Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory’s (CRREL) Force Projection and Sustainment Branch are researching new technology to assist the Army with achieving its objective of regaining Arctic dominance by ensuring Soldiers have vehicles equipped to handle the coldest regions on Earth.
For more than 17 years, Mike Parker, a CRREL mechanical engineer, has been primarily working on vehicle mobility ― studying how vehicles react while moving over complex environments, such as frozen tundra, forests covered in snow, or fields of slick and sinking mud.
Recently, Parker and CRREL’s winter mobility laboratory have been using a Polaris MRZR heavily modified with unique equipment designed by CRREL. The equipment logs data that reveals how the vehicle reacts to any terrain it’s driving across.
“We can study things like what kind of algorithms are needed to make the vehicle more mobile on snow with tracks versus wheels,” said Parker. “The Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy are all looking at the Arctic environment, and our research here is really aimed at how we can improve mobility in these complex environments.”
Parker says his team studies how vehicles move on terrain as it freezes to when it starts to thaw and anything in between. They also study soft organic environments that are often found in the Arctic. The winter mobility laboratory does a lot of research in Arctic regions, and all of their research is aimed at increasing performance in Arctic environments.
“A good example is the recent conflict in Ukraine,” said Parker. “The Russians had a hard time navigating through the highly organic soils, and in February as things started to thaw out, their vehicles started to get stuck.”
“We’re asking, ‘How can we prevent that if the U.S. Army were to encounter such a scenario?’” he said. “So, we can tell them where to go, how to go and what are the best paths to take once you get there.”
Orian Welling, a CRREL research mechanical engineer, uses research tools such as the MRZR to discover and develop systems to provide answers for that question.
“I would say there are three different ways that this vehicle helps us regain Arctic dominance,” said Welling. “It gives us information about traveling over snow and ice that we can use for mission planning and operations planning perspective. It’s the information we gleaned with all the sensors that are detecting vehicle performance.”
Welling says they collect the data and then turn it into mobility models for different cold regions and drain systems, giving CRREL the ability to predict which vehicles can go where to support Army planning.
Secondly, in addition to providing analysis on the effects varied terrains will have on vehicles in cold regions, the winter mobility laboratory is actively developing autonomous systems for military vehicles.
“The MRZR helps us move towards more advanced capabilities — like autonomous driving,” said Welling. “It’s a challenge when you get off the road, and even more of a challenge when you get off the road and you're in deep snow and everything looks the same to a computer, but we're heading in that direction.”
Welling says the third way the vehicle will support the Army’s Arctic dominance objective is through the platform’s ability to be easily modified to suit CRREL’s needs.
“Having this test capability and being able to take in new ideas and rapidly deploy them on a vehicle that's fairly easy to add onto in order to get some feedback quickly is essential,” said Welling. “This vehicle is really core to CRREL. We are the only Army laboratory that does research and development solely focused on cold regions, and although we collaborate with many other university laboratories, this is really our identity, our focus and our space to play.”