M9 Armored Combat Earthmover
This armored tracked vehicle is at the front line of many U.S. Military operationsby Kirby Garlitos, on
Perhaps the name “Earthmover” is a sign of what this highly mobile armored tracked vehicle can do. Officially called the U.S. M9 Armored Combat Earthmover, the M9 is a highly mobile, armored, amphibious tractor, dozer, and scraper that took the field for the first time in 1986, serving in a number of important battles for the U.S. Army, including the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.
The M9 is neither an attack vehicle nor a defensive one. But it is capable of supporting forces in both operations by performing such jobs as digging hull defilade fighting positions for guns, tanks, and other battlefield systems to increase their effectiveness and ultimate survivability. It’s also capable of preparing anti-dank ditches, combat roads, access routes on bodies of water, and remove roadblocks in the event of such predicaments.
The M9’s track record in service has proven to be a boon for the U.S. Military. It’s still in service today, thanks in large part to a long history of effectiveness in the battlefield where it’s versatility in performing a wide variety of missions helped immensely in keeping pace with the operations.
Close to 500 units of the M9 are in U.S. service today and are prominently used by the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps.
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The first thing people notice about it is its size. It’s almost 21 feet long, nine feet wide, and has a height of about 10 feet above the cupola. It also weighs 37,000 pounds. Depending on who you ask, the M9 ACE could be classified as a big vehicle or a small one, but for the U.S. Military, the ACE is considered a lightweight vehicle that can be easily transported in a Lockheed C-130 “Hercules” transport plane or swallowed inside the larger Lockheed planes, including the C-141 “Starlifter” and the C-5 “Galaxy."
The boxy nature of the M9 ACE may make some wonder of its versatile field capabilities, but rest assured, this vehicle is well-suited for the rigors of war. For one, it has an armor made up of an aluminum structure with appliqué steel panels and aramid-laminated plates that are resistant to shell splinters and small arms fire, NBC protection & smoke screen generator. The front section is characterized by an 8.7 cubic yard bowl, apron and dozer blade. The hull is welded and bolted aluminum while the driver compartment is covered by an armored cupola that includes eight vision blocks.
The M9 ACE does have a few things going against it, the most important of which is the lack of any weapons that can help protect it from attack.
The M9 ACE does have a few things going against it, the most important of which is the lack of any weapons that can help protect it from attack. The only thing it has in that regard are eight smoke grenades, which really doesn’t do much in the way of neutralizing attacks directed towards it. This nature of the M9 ACE has resulted in the vehicle being accompanied by Armored Fighting Vehicles in breaching operations. It’s a tactic that isn’t ideal, but has been deemed necessary at one point or another to help the M9 ACE accomplish its objectives. Recent calls from the military have suggested the addition of protective weapons for the ACE, particularly a machine gun of some sort or an automatic grenade launcher to help thwart off its enemies.
The M9 ACE is a single operator vehicle so the interior really is just made up of a small pod for the operator that’s about as spartan as it’s going to get. The cabin is pretty much made up of just one seat and an array of switches and levers that control its primary functions. A single steering wheel can be found in the middle and just behind it, the dashboard – if you can even call it that – prominently features numerous dials and meters that show the vitals of the vehicle. To the right of the seat is the gear shifter.
The interior is located at the rear of the vehicle as the apron and dozer blade comprise a significant area up front. The location of the compartment has been the source of criticism in the past in relation to where the apron and dozer blade are. That said, there have been calls for a front-mounted telescope or a side-mounted periscope to be added in order to give the operator more visibility.
Powering the M9 is a Cummins V903C eight-cylinder diesel engine that produces 295 horsepower at 2,600 rpm and mated to a Clark 13.5 HR 3610-2 six-speed transmission. Top speed only comes up to about 30 mph on account of its size and weight, but it is good for an operational range of 200 miles. The M9 can even swim at a speed of three mph under ideal conditions. Power and performance may not be the M9’s strong suit. That falls on its ability to perform its primary function of clearing obstacles for the maneuver units.
One of the more important features of the M9 is its hydro-pneumatic suspension system, which is made up of eight high-pressure hydraulic rotary actuators
One of the more important features of the M9 is its hydro-pneumatic suspension system, which is made up of eight high-pressure hydraulic rotary actuators – four on each side – that are connected to the roadwheel stations. The suspension system is primarily responsible for the M9 ACE’s main functions. It allows the front of the vehicle to be raised, lowered, or tilted for a variety of purposes, including dozing, exciting, rough grading or ditching. The vehicle’s system also features a two-speed winch that’s capable of pulling objects by as much as 25,000 pounds.
Shock-absorbing accumulators are also included to help provide a smooth ride during travel and when the M9 ACE begins its primary purpose of moving and clearing dirt out of the way, the actuators are rotated so as to lower the apron and blade for digging.
The M9 Armored Combat Earthmover isn’t the type of military vehicle that you’ll find on posters or recruitment brochures. Those are reserved for the M1 Abrams tanks or the Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The M9 isn’t even the type of vehicle that can turn the tide in a war. But to discount its importance in the grand scheme of war is to not understand the many layers that go on in combat. The M9 ACE literally does the dirty work by clearing obstacles and creating fighting positions for the U.S. Military.
It’s one of the few military vehicles that can literally lead the way into enemy territory as it did in breaching the border berm between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. It may not have any weapons, but its function is just as important considering that without the M9 ACE, the U.S. Military would have a far more difficult time engaging its enemies in the open field.