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New military vehicle has heavyweight core but a familiar exterior

CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait—It's a military vehicle for those who need something more fierce than a Humvee and more nimble than a tank.

Its turreted guns can knock down walls and punch holes through hardened steel three-quarters of an inch thick. Its can roll over a 10-pound mine like a Cadillac Escalade over a small pothole.

Even high-powered .50 caliber bullets ping off the M1117 Guardian armored security vehicle, or ASV, like pebbles off a rhino's backside.

If war begins, military police will give the ASV its first extended trial in the desert. A dozen rolled off a ship Sunday morning at a port near Kuwait City for delivery to MP units. Troops had trouble starting one and another had to be hauled to a base camp because its engine overheated.

In the field, the vehicles face one problem: they're the same size and have the same look as a Russian-designed vehicle that Iraqis use. With American pilots, tank commanders, artillery officers and others unaccustomed to the ASV, some MPs worry about friendly fire.

"It's an issue for us," said Col. Teddy Spain, commander of the 18th Military Police Brigade. "We're taking measures."

Each ASV is equipped with infrared lights that can be seen by U.S. pilots and other ground forces with special equipment. Reflective tape is being placed on the roof, day-glow orange squares are being added and blankets are being placed over the engine compartment to give the vehicle a different "heat signature" than the Iraqi machine.

Meantime, MPs have been talking to other units they'll be operating around to remind them that new vehicle is theirs.

"Any ground force has got to worry about friendly fire," said Patrick Garrett, an analyst for Globalsecurity.org, a defense-consulting firm in Alexandria, Va. He noted that more American troops died in the first Persian Gulf War from friendly fire than from weapons shot by the Iraqi army.

The ASV, which costs about $600,000 each, will let the Army stretch its ground firepower to remote areas more quickly. On pavement, it can reach 65 mph and can go for 400 miles without refueling.

"It allows me to push those guys into an area of risk and still have my soldiers protected," said Lt. Col. Richard Vanderlinden, commander of the 709th MP Battalion. "It lets me be more offensive."

When it runs into opposition, it can fire bursts of three to five grenades in a heartbeat, and heave dozens in a minute. Its cannon blasts armor-piercing bullets at a rate of 200 in 30 seconds. The Army has bought 53 so far, all assigned to MPs.

It carries three people, a driver, a team leader riding in the passenger's seat and a gunner spinning in the turret. The two front seats adjust and recline hydraulically and crews describe it as nearly luxurious.

It can be finicky, too. Crews keep extra close watch on fluid levels and tend regularly to its suspension system.

Gunner and Spc. Jeremy Ridgley, 22, of Columbus, Ind., said, "I've got all my tools and rags tied up there in my turret so I can fix things."

Spc. Todd Rauch, 19, of Mattoon, Ill., has been driving an ASV for a year. Its automatic transmission and tires that change inflation to adjust ground conditions run well, he said, running through mud easily.

"I'm waiting to see how it does in the sand," he said.

The vehicle weighs more than 12,000 pounds. "I'm curious to see if it sinks."

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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