Home sweet home - in an Army tank

Long trips in a tank can be tiring. So the United States Army is developing cushions, a battery-powered massager, and soothing cassette tapes to help combat vehicle crews relax on the battlefield. Army engineers hope these rest devices will enable soldiers to sit for three days straight in armored interiors. In recent tests, volunteers could stand no more than 20 hours of confinement in M-1 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.

``After that, they just couldn't take it anymore,'' says Mohsin Singapore, an engineer with the Army Tank and Automotive Command.

A small California company, Invotec Conceptual Designs, has been awarded a little less than $50,000 to help the Army Tank Command in this effort.

Among the specific items Invotec has proposed:

Hammocks. Vehicle crew members could snatch rest during quiet spells in lightweight net slings. Tanks and Bradleys are not Vista Cruiser-like in their interior dimensions, so crews would have to take turns using the hammocks. Specially fitted pads would cushion sleepers against an armored vehicle's many hard edges.

Exerciser. This device, consisting of elastic cords hung from a horizontal bar, is intended to allow exercise of each major muscle group.

Massager. A small, battery-powered unit, the massager would further ease the stress of sitting with little movement.

Relaxation tapes. Vehicles would be stocked with several different kinds of audio cassettes, including what the Army calls ``sleep-inducing imagery'' and music tailored to the crew's taste. A sound system suitable for a tank has yet to be developed.

The Army's intent in all this is not to make the M-1 an alternative to the Volkswagen camper. In future conflicts, crews might have to remain in their tanks or fighting vehicles for days to avoid nuclear fallout or residue from chemical and biological weapons.

In addition, the sheer intensity of warfare with modern weapons would put crew members under tremendous stress. ``They would get maybe an hour for sleep. They need to be able to use it efficiently,'' says Mr. Singapore of Tank Command.

The Army began working with Invotec on rest aids in 1986, funding the program from a pool of research and development money set aside for small business contracts. Tank Command is now waiting to see whether it will have enough money for further development of the crew resting system.

Another Tank Command research program undertaken in 1986 is the design of an on-board audio troubleshooting system for combat vehicles. This system would be similar to those ``now being installed in automobiles offered to the general public,'' according to an Army bid solicitation.

Thus, tanks of the future might have more than hammocks and tape decks. They might feature a mechanical voice warning crew members ``the hatch is ajar, the hatch is ajar.''

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