The US Army has started survivability testing of the first two of the three ultra light vehicles (ULVs) in Nevada and Maryland, US, in an effort to validate their blast and ballistic protection capability.

Developed by the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) at the request of the office of the Secretary of Defense in 2011, the ULVs are expected to serve as a research and development platform that will yield data that can be used by other TARDEC agencies and programme managers and sister services for development of their respective vehicles and equipment in the future.

Powered by a diesel engine, the hybrid vehicle features lightweight advanced material armour, lightweight wheels and tires and other automotive systems, blast-mitigating underbody technology, as well as advanced command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) equipment.

ULV programme manager Mike Karaki said the ULV programme is likely to help development of survivability in future vehicles and other hybrid vehicles as well.

"You want to be able to use anything and everything you can from this programme to help reduce the duplication of efforts in the future," Karaki said.

"You will be able to improve your chances of being able to direct a blast away from the vehicle."

The vehicle features a "clean underbody" underneath instead of standard equipment, which increases resistance against an explosion from an improvised explosive device (IED).

Karaki said: "If you keep less equipment, accessories, systems underneath the vehicle, and you allow the underbody geometry to do what it needs to do …you will be able to improve your chances of being able to direct a blast away from the vehicle."

Both ULVs are eventually scheduled to be destroyed, while the third vehicle, which is currently undergoing automotive testing and hybrid electric setup evaluation at TARDEC’s Ground Systems Power and Energy Laboratory in Warren, Michigan, US, will be preserved as a test platform.

Initiated with four research objectives, including a 4,500lb payload, a vehicle weight of 14,000lb, protection comparable to the existing mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle, and a price of $250,000 each for a hypothetical 5,000-unit production run, is scheduled to conclude in 2014.