A laudable initiative from the Iron Brigade soldiers!

The US Army reported last week a commendable initiative of five soldiers from the Iron Brigade that saved the service branch $26 million. Instead of scrapping worn-out line-replaceable units (LRUs) within Bradley Fighting Vehicles (BFVs) and M1A2 Abrams tanks, they repair the components using the sophisticated Next Generation Automatic Test System (NGATS).

The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, was among the first brigades to field the NGATS last year, which allowed them to familiarize themselves with the ongoing mobilization.

According to Lt. Col. Patrick Reardon, commander of the 64th Brigade Support Battalion, they have previously conducted hands-on training on two NGATS.

US NGATS containers at Poland
NGATS mobile containers assigned to the 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. (Image source: US Army)

NGATS is a standalone diagnostic test set used to troubleshoot line replacement units in the field and is a mounting system that allows Army maintainers to fix forward on the battlefield. It is usually contained and stored in an international standard (ISO) 20-foot container equipped with a 60-kilowatt generator.

“We have been fielded two NGATS systems, consisting of four containers that have electronic diagnosis and troubleshooting systems inside of them, along with work benches and an overhead lift system, consisting of four containers that have electronic diagnosis and troubleshooting systems inside of them, along with work benches and an overhead lift system,” Reardon said.

Diagnostic cables
NGATS hooked on an LRU for troubleshooting diagnosis. (Image source: US Army)

Reardon explained that what they did was: they took an LRU(Line Replaceable Unit), placed it on the lift system, and set it on the workbench before hooking the wiring harness into the modular component. Electronic troubleshooting and diagnosis system will then pass through these wiring harnesses, allowing them to run the diagnosis.

“What the NGATS does is determine where the faults are inside of that LRU. So, it will tell us that a circuit card is faulty, then we know we just need to replace that one circuit card to bring the entire LRU fully mission capable for that Bradley,” he added.

The LRU is an essential support item, also known as the brain of all warfighting machinery (including aircraft, ships, spacecraft, etc.), and it is generally designed to be replaced in a short period.

“Every tank and every Bradley has an LRU, these are basically boxes full of electronic components inside that perform various functions on those platforms,” Reardon said. He further explained that “a simple LRU could cost anywhere from $80,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the capability that we bring with the NGATS system is the ability to repair the internals of those very expensive components.”

Reardon continued: “So, where we can buy and replace a circuit card for $14,000 and crack open an LRU and replace the simple circuit card, it saves us from purchasing a whole new LRU that may be $80,000 to $100,000.”

Since arriving in Poland five months ago, the team has been executing this, resulting in a big save of $26 million.

Aside from the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, the previously assigned unit—the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division—also managed to save around $3 million.

Unlike the Iron Brigade, the previous unit used the predecessor and less effective system of NGATS, the Direct Support Electrical Systems Test Sets (DIGESTS).

“DSESTS is the legacy system we have had for years,” Reardon said. “Over the last couple of years, the NGATS has replaced the DSESTS which has been around since probably the 80s. Army Materiel Command fielded us the NGATS platforms and that has proven to be much more efficient than the DSESTS system that we have used forever.”

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operator and maintainer performing diagnostics
An automatic test systems operator and maintainer were running a diagnosis on an LRU. (Image source: US Army)

The NGATS system enables Integrated Test Equipment Operators and Maintainers to run precise diagnostics on issues within an LRU that may require repair or replacement. Additionally, it allows for testing digital and analog electronic hardware and software for various Army weapons, not just the LRU. With this, military operators and maintainers can effectively support troops in the field.

“When we talk about our control systems and electronics, that’s really where we’re talking about LRUs,” Reardon added. “If our operational readiness number drops, it’s generally because of LRU failures. And that’s where it’s so critical to get them diagnosed, repaired and back in the fight so that the Soldiers can continue firing on those platforms and remain ready at all times.”

These new NGAT systems can also be forward deployed with the tanks, which tend to move pretty fast in offensive operations, which means tank like the Abrams and Bradley Fighting Vehicles won’t have to travel far to the rear to repair faulty gear.  This is important in terms of keeping tracked vehicles closer to the fight and back in the fight faster.