The monstrous, larger-than-life military tanks of tomorrow could be powered by Hoosier ingenuity. A recent $47 million defense contract delivers marching orders for Columbus-based Cummins Inc.: develop the next-generation engine to power U.S. combat vehicles, and it must be stronger, but smaller, and elusive to enemies’ efforts to spot it. The project is a milestone for Cummins, marking one of the largest research contracts the manufacturer has inked with the military.
The National Advanced Mobility Consortium, which awarded the contract, has tasked Cummins with three key requirements for the Advanced Combat Engine (ACE) project. Cummins Vice President of Research and Technology Wayne Eckerle says the most challenging is to reduce heat rejection by 21 percent, compared to current combat vehicles, which are also powered by Cummins engines.
“If the engine is rejecting a lot of heat, you have a thermal signature that makes it easier for the enemy to find the tank; that heat has to be dissipated somewhere on the vehicle, because the heat signature can be seen with infrared or some other technology,” says Eckerle. “It means the tank has to have a very significant cooling system to keep the engine cool.”
The manufacturer is working with California-based Achates Power, a longtime partner that has developed an engine that Cummins’ expertise will help take to the next level and open the door to production. In addition to low heat rejection, the two companies will combine forces to meet demanding power requirements for the engine: the project aims to improve power density by more than 50 percent, compared to current combat engines.
“[The military] is after an engine that could deliver more power in a smaller package size,” says Eckerle. “Even though those tanks look very, very large, the actual space for the engine is confined. The [military] wants an engine that can put out the power needed and still be in a relatively small package size.”
Similar to reducing heat rejection, increasing power density works toward the ultimate goal of making U.S. troops safer.
“One of the reasons the engine compartment is so small is, there’s a lot of protective covering put on these vehicles,” says Eckerle. “If you can compartmentalize the engine to a smaller space, that leaves more space for putting protection on the vehicle to protect the people inside it. And because of the extra power, you can put more armor on the vehicle and still deliver the mission.”
A third requirement for the diesel engine is to reduce fuel use by 13 percent. Cummins says research and development is well underway at its Columbus headquarters and prototype parts will arrive in the coming months. The manufacturer expects to build a handful of prototype engines at its Seymour facility. Ultimately, Cummins plans to demonstrate the engine in the full power train to show it will deliver on the specifications.
“Cummins was chosen for this contract because the government wanted a company that could, potentially, take the concept into production. [Our focus] is taking Achates’ ideas and turning them into a production-viable engine; they’ve demonstrated the technology in a sample configuration,” says Eckerle. “[Cummins] is in the process of laying out how’d we take it into production, if and when that happens, and the costs that go with it.”
While the research contract is among the company’s largest in the defense sector, Eckerle believes the ACE project could open doors for advancing engines in Cummins’ commercial applications, such as marine and industrial segments—delivering Cummins’ might to more than just the military.
Eckerle says the project will likely benefit areas of Cummins’ portfolio beyond defense.
Eckerle describes the unique nature of the project’s engine.