The Expando Van:  TOC on Wheels

by Peter Sakalas

        In the September-October issue of Army Logistician, the article, "Establishing the Optimal CSS Tactical Operations Center," by Captain Michael Kunzer, compared the expansible van, or expando van, with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) container for possible use as a tactical operations center (TOC). The author presented what he felt were shortcomings in using an expando van as a TOC. I'd like to introduce the reader to the new family of medium tactical vehicles (FMTV) 5-ton expando van that incorporates improvements that will make it the optimal vehicle for use as a mobile office in a tactical environment. Many of these improvements address the shortcomings identified by Captain Kunzer and will make the expando van a good choice for use as a TOC.

    The 5-ton expando van was developed as a variant FMTV truck in which an expansible box is mounted on a 217-inch-long wheelbase chassis. This chassis also is used for the long wheelbase cargo truck with materials-handling equipment. The physical characteristics of the expando van are—

    Program Manager, Platforms, at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, provided significant input on improvements to the expando van design meant to enhance its value as a TOC and for other Army applications. Some of these improvements not only are being incorporated into the new expando vans on the production line but also are being added to the old M934 expando vans as they are upgraded.

    The center section of the van's box has a reinforced floor of ¼-inch-thick aluminum to which tables, desks, chairs, and heavy machinery can be bolted. Electrical, telephone, computer, and fax lines can be attached along the center of the ceiling and dropped down to the equipment when the center section is used as a work area. There would be no need to move this equipment before closing the box. In addition, there is adequate room to walk around the equipment in the center section when the van is expanded and operational.

    The walls on each side of the box have three electrical outlets with manual on-and-off switches. These outlets are suitable for connecting computer equipment and remain "hot" in blackout situations. If blackout integrity is compromised, any computer connected to the outlets will not crash, which will allow the operator time to download his work before manually turning off the outlet.

    Outside, the box has integral retracting steps from the rear platform to the roof of the center section. The roof can support a soldier affixing a camouflage net or clearing snow and will support up to 6 inches of wet snow.

    The expando van was designed so that the box can be removed from the truck chassis for transport on a C-130 aircraft. The box is attached to the vehicle by four ISO locks—one on each lower corner of the center section. All electric and hydraulic fluid connections between the truck chassis and the box have a quick-disconnect feature.

    The subframe of the box consists of two rails that are spaced to fit onto a K loader (a lift used to load cargo onto an aircraft). The front end of each rail is curved up—akin to the front of a snow ski—so that it will not bind on the rollers of the K loader. The box center section has lift points at each top corner and tiedowns on each bottom corner to facilitate moving the box and securing it once it is separated from the truck.

    Preparing the van for transport on a C-130 or C-141 requires only a few minutes to disconnect the electrical wiring and disengage the ISO locks. The box then will be ready to be lifted onto a K loader by forklift or crane.

    Because the van uses an FMTV chassis, it passes all mobility requirements for combat support and combat service support missions with a proven capability to drive horizontally across a 30-degree side slope. In addition, the vehicle has a central tire-inflation system and enhanced traction that will enable it to be driven over wet and muddy terrain. It has an antilock braking system for stopping on wet pavement, snow, and ice.

    The entire van can be expanded, leveled, and set up for operations in less than 15 minutes. It has a leveling capability and ground plates to hold it in soft soil, which prove to be great advantages on rolling or muddy terrain.

    The expando van is designed with a door on each side and a double door in the rear. Each door has its own platform and ladder, so vans could be placed next to each other, either side by side or rear to rear, with a connecting structure (the platforms) between them. Occupants would not need to descend to the ground when moving from vehicle to vehicle.

    The FMTV expando van is C-130 transportable and is configured for use as a TOC. Other functions it could support include maintenance, direct support electronic test systems, and command and control. Production of the updated version of the van is scheduled for fiscal year 2004, with delivery beginning in fiscal year 2005.  ALOG

    Peter Sakalas is the Assistant Project Manager, Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles Special Vehicles, where he worked with the design and development of the FMTV expando van. He has an M.B.A. degree from the University of Detroit Mercy.