Self-Protection Adaptive Roller Kit (SPARK)/SPARK II
The Self-Protection Adaptive Roller Kit (SPARK) was a modular mine roller system designed to be mounted on tactical wheeled platforms. The front roller consisted of 2 roller banks on the left and right side of the vehicle, providing contact with the ground, causing IEDs to detonate on the roller. This forced as much of the blast down and away from the vehicle as possible, as opposed to underneath the vehicle. SPARK could also be used as a platform for other IED defeat technologies such as Rhino, Cyclone and Command Wire.
The SPARK roller was originally provided for use on one of 3 platforms. These were the M1114/1151 up-armored High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), the RG-31 MMPV, and the M900 5-ton truck series. There were 2 separate configurations of the roller system as well. The track-width front roller configuration attached to the frame of the RG-31 and the HMMWV, intended for deliberate route-clearance operations. The full-width configuration attached both a front and rear roller to the M900 5-ton truck series. This version wes intended for use on vehicles that are part of fast-moving logistical convoys. An improved version of the roller kit featured 3 roller banks, and could be fitted to a wider range of vehicles, including various MRAP vehicle types.
In both configurations, the front roller consisted of 2 roller banks on the vehicle's left and right side, its sole purpose being the defeat of any IED. The purpose of having the 2 rollers in front and back in the full-width configuration was that the rear roller also had a hydraulic system that controled rollers, allowing the vehicle to move faster down the road and be more stable.
Before SPARK, there was no mine roller kit available to Soldiers for a tactical wheeled vehicle platform. Its creation was born out of immediate need and improvisation. In early 2006, enterprising US Army 3rd Infantry Division members took it upon themselves to create a roller for their HMMWV out of tow bars and wheels for the M1113 vehicle.
Responding to Soldiers' needs, the Rapid Equipping Force quickly fielded 2 mine roller variants based on these improvisational solutions in late 2006/early 2007, called the Sharp Edge and the Sharp Knife rollers. While these new designs addressed the immediate warfighter needs, the rollers were only stop-gap measures until a more effective solution could be found.
In September 2006, a Joint Urgent Operational Need Statement (JUONS) for 313 mine rollers was approved, and the newly formed Product Manager IED Defeat/Protect Force (PM IEDD/PF) teamed with the US Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) to present a commercial-off-the-shelf solution to the Joint IED Defeat Office (JIEDDO). The 2 organizations pooled their resources to gather data from outside sources on available alternatives. The USMC had already fielded mine rollers supplied by various different vendors. TARDEC had assisted in the analysis of the suitability of these systems. Data from those tests that was leveraged for the new Army roller system.
After a thorough assessment, it was determined that of the various mine rollers in use, Pearson Engineering offered the best solution for the Army against the IED threat. Aside from having the only option that provided both blast dampening and a modular, easily repairable design, Pearson Engineering already had a history with the Army. Pearson had previously provided a similar roller kit for the Stryker engineering vehicle variant.
Once the Pearson roller was selected, JIEDDO approved funding on 22 December 2006 and a contract through the US Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command Acquisition Center was awarded on 9 January 2007. Three urgent materiel releases (UMRs) for rollers to equip the HMMWV, the RG-31 and the M900 5-ton truck series were issued soon after in an extremely short time span, which needed to be fulfilled in a rapid sequence to meet fielding requirements. PM IEDD/PF received funding in December 2007, and in a record 90 days, Soldiers in Iraq received the first delivery of SPARKs. What made this quick turnaround possible was PM IEDD/PF working in concert with multiple key external organizations.
Even though the SPARK was fielded quickly, no shortcuts were taken with testing. PM IEDD/PF, working with TARDEC and ATEC, conducted in-depth, safety-centric automotive performance testing for the SPARK on each of the three vehicles at Aberdeen Test Center (ATC), in Maryland. The team also performed a SPARK mobility test at the Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) in Arizona, where they captured data on braking, speed, turning and slope navigation. While at YPG, the SPARK underwent endurance testing, ensuring that the 3,200-pound roller system would not cause any additional stress on the HMMWV. Lastly, the SPARK went through a successful blast test attached to the HMMWV.
By Mid-2008, a revision to the initial JUONS was with the US Army Central Command for approval to increase the number of SPARKs in theater significantly, while increasing the variety of vehicles the SPARK would support. Of the proposed new amount, the majority would be allocated to equipping armored HMMWVs, as the SPARK had proven itself to be especially effective when mounted on this vehicle.
Beyond requirements, PM IEDD/PF personnel were investigating ways to improve the SPARK on their own. Innovations include a version of the front-mounted track-width roller with lights mounted on it to assist night patrols, and integrating multiple IED defeat capabilities (such as the Rhino passive IED defeat system) to combat various IED threats.
Originally developed for Operation Iraqi Freedom, a SPARK variant was under development as of 2009 for Operation Enduring Freedom. The goal was to achieve the same operational and logistical success as in OIF by meeting a more robust set of challenges.
In January 2009, the upgraded Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) specific SPARK system, designed to support the terrain and mission requirements of Afghanistan, began fielding. Upgrades included additional lights for better visibility during night patrols and improved control, braking and steering for the severe environment of Afghanistan. The updated OEF SPARK also featured a third front roller for maximum coverage.
In February 2009, an IED Roller Interface Bracket prototype for the RG-33 MRAP vehicle passed a fit test in February just months after engineers and employees at Tobyhanna Army Depot started working on the project. The system allowed the fitting of the Self-Protection Adaptive Roller Kit (SPARK) to the RG-33 series of vehicles. Additionally, an improved SPARK, which was fielded to Afghanistan in January and Iraq in March, was developed, which included an additional third roller bank. The SPARK had been further improved for the Afghanistan terrain by allowing the driver to control the roller banks.
On 9 September 2009, a sources sought notice was issued for an improved SPARK roller system, which subsequently became known as SPARK II. This notice was posted prior to receipt of the requirements established later in the developmental process. The notice requested that respondents provide information pertaining to their ability to provide a full-width, (vehicle width at minimum), front mounted roller that would detonate surface laid and buried anti-tank (AT) mines and pressure activated improvised explosive devices (IED) when connected to the Medium Mine Protected Vehicle (MMPV), Mine Protected Clearance Vehicle (MPCV), Mine-Resistant, Ambushed-Protected (MRAP) vehicle, and any other Tactical Wheeled Vehicles (TWV). In addition, the capability to provide spare parts for repair in the field was requested.
Respondents were also asked to provide infonnation as to their roller's ability to meet the following criteria:
- Must be effective while operating at a minimum of 15 kilometers/hour on primary and secondary roadways, as well as and fair weather loose surface trail roadways;
- Must be capable of activating threats buried flush with the surface and threats buried below the surface;
- Must be capable of quick connect/disconnect by 2 soldiers (vehicle operator and one other Soldier) with no special tools or lift assets;
- Roller and vehicle tandem must be capable of negotiating stiarp turns and performing extreme mobility operations while in roller operational mode;
- Must have an emergency release to disconnect thee roller from the vehicle interface or to disconnect the roller interface and roller from the vehicle; and
- Roller capability must not degrade the host vehicle mobility by more than 25 percent.
On 13 April 2010, the contract was awarded for the improved SPARK II system to Pearson Engineering. The contract was sole sourced, it being determined that Pearson Engineering was the only contractor capable of providing the desired capability.
Through June 2010, 425 OEF SPARK systems had been fielded and had engaged and protected soldiers an astounding 225 times.
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