I live about five miles down the road from the oldest U.S. Army proving ground, Aberdeen Proving Ground. Located in Harford County, Maryland, the base is where the Army developed quite a few of the vehicles and weapons deployed in every war of the 20th and 21st centuries. It’s the U.S. Army’s Nürburgring for tanks and armored vehicles.
In 1917, Woodrow Wilson and the U.S. Army needed a parcel of land where, essentially, they could blow stuff up and test chemical weapons. Their former area of arms testing in Sandy Hook, New Jersey wasn’t cutting it anymore because at this time, weapons technology was getting more and more advanced. Gone was the era of lining up in formation on horseback with muskets. By World War II, mechanized warfare was here to stay, and the guns were only getting bigger.
To keep up with the new pace at which technology was advancing, the government bought 69,000 acres of land in Harford County and designated the area for military testing.
In Edgewood, Maryland, the Edgewood Arsenal was constructed to house, test and produce chemical weapons. It was strategically placed far away from population centers in case anything went catastrophically wrong. And Aberdeen, Maryland the Aberdeen Proving Ground was established so the U.S. Army could hoon all its new toys.
It was at these two installations that the Army tested the M1 “Bazooka” anti-tank rocket launcher before and during World War II, the Jeep, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the Stryker 8x8 armored vehicle, the M1 Abrams and just about every other armored vehicle you can think of.
One such armored vehicle is Oshkosh Defense’s JLTV (Joint Light Tactical Vehicle), the Humvee’s probable replacement. The U.S. Army hopes that the JLTV will resist all manner of attacks better than the Humvee, and Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) is just the place to run a vehicle through its paces.
Those paces include just straight up blowing it up, driving it like a Group B rally car and shooting at it. This video from ABC 2 News in Baltimore shows some of the tests the JLTV has to go through.
The Army’s own Green Hell encompasses several miles of road within the base with loops around Philips Army Airfield, simulated highways, dirt tracks, concrete inclines and even a mile loop, which looks like it’d be fun to put a car on.
The Munson Test area bordering the Chesapeake Bay looks like someone described Laguna Seca through morse code. But instead of GT cars going down the corkscrew, it’s America’s next fighting vehicle, driving over simulated IEDs and concrete barriers.
When I was in ninth grade, my high school physics teacher took us to the Munson test course as part of a field trip. It was there that I saw an M60 Patton tank drive around the course, down the street and into a now-defunct Wendy’s parking lot where the crew got out for lunch.
In addition to the Munson Test Course, APG also utilizes the Churchville Test Area offsite in nearby—you guessed it!—Churchville. This track encompasses a large wooded area that would make rally enthusiasts cry. Maryland’s own little slice of Finland is used to thrash vehicles over ravines, hills, gradients and whatever else they can think to test the durability of vehicles.
(More details from ATEC about the specific composition of the Churchville Test Area and all the other test areas of APG can be found here.)
Testing a vehicle for the Army isn’t all race tracks, explosions and trips to Wendy’s. Even more technical stuff like fuel consumption and highway use is taken into consideration. APG is home to a test highway where the JLTV can stretch its legs a bit to its top speed of 64 mph. It’s here where ATEC can observe more mundane aspects like road vibrations and noise. While it’s not a Lexus, the JLTV still needs to be smooth enough to transport soldiers to and from the battlefield without rattling their skulls.
The JLTV has to run these tests hundreds or thousands of times and have every little problem documented so Oshkosh knows exactly what to improve on. Automakers should take a page out of the Army’s book when it comes to testing. I’d like to see an Alfa Romeo or a Tesla take a few laps around APG.
It’s tests like these that ensure that the vehicles used by today and tomorrow’s military protect soldiers and get their job done. While Chevy has been seemingly working on a mid-engine Corvette forever, that’s nothing compared to military development cycles. They have to be absolutely sure that their vehicles meet stringent criteria and pass whatever test they can come up with.