Shopping at the Army's One-Stop Trade Show

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Oct 04, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC—At one time, Saab turned out quirky cars that pipe-smoking, Car Talk-listening, tweed-encased college professors drove. These days, the cars are no more (unless a faint sign of life in China can be counted), and Saab Technology is making the AT4CS Light Anti-Armor Weapon, capable of taking out a tank from a confined space.

The latest in military wear, on offer in Washington, D.C. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I learned about the new Saab products—and a whole lot more at the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) annual meeting in Washington, D.C. It’s a huge trade show in the convention center, but the customers are wearing camouflage.

Chevy's Colorado ZH2 is hydrogen powered, with a stealth heat signature and virtually silent operation. (Jim Motavalli photo)

It looked kind of like a regular car show, if you squinted your eyes a bit. There was even a new model introduction—General Motors’ Chevy Colorado ZH2, a huge vehicle with a green heart—hydrogen fuel-cell power. GM has invested more than $3 billion in fuel-cell research, and this Colorado—the only one built so far—will be evaluated by the Army for the next generation of warfighting trucks.

The Colorado is hosting the same fuel cell that was in Chevy’s fleet of 119 hydrogen-powered Equinoxes, but the company is developing a much improved (smaller and lighter) unit with Honda that could be on the market as early as 2020. 

H&K's sniper rifle was all business. (Jim Motavalli photo)

So it looked kinda like a car show, but those extravaganzas don’t usually have vendors selling the Heckler & Koch Semi-Automatic Sniper System (SASS). I wasn’t in the market (I'm more of a car guy), but the Army is buying them.

Lots of vendors sold ammunition. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I’m still not quite sure what a supercavitating multi-environment bullet does, but the DSG Technologies vendor did manage to get it across to me that it fires water to water. He said this was in response to some emerging threat whose name I didn’t quite get. Torpedoes? “We have them to fit any weapon or machine gun that the military has,” he said. “There’s no modification necessary—that’s the beauty of it.”

The JLTV by Oshkosh Defense, not Oshkosh B'Gosh. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The huge desert-painted truck turned out to be a GM-engined Oshkosh Defense Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), selected in 2015 to replace the Hummer as the Army’s main transporter. It’s huge, and heavily armored enough (with windows that look like gunsights) to withstand an IED hit.

As a crack defense reporter, I asked the startled Oshkosh guy, “Are you the same company that makes the Oshkosh B’Gosh kids’ clothes?” “No,” he said curtly. “We make fire rescue trucks, concrete mixers and the JLTV, which combines off-road mobility with a high degree of survivability, and it will be in the hands of our warfighters in two years.” But perhaps a line of camo-gear could be cross-marketed?

The AUSA floor, where uniforms and plainclothes merged. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I was also stopped in my tracks by Pearson Engineering’s full-width mine plough. Straight out of a science-fiction movie, this breaching equipment gives “heavyweight combat vehicles the ability to produce a cleared lane for trafficking by subsequent vehicles.” Blast-resistant bug-like legs reach out and plow up the ground to detonate mines and IEDs.

Protective gear, anyone? (Jim Motavalli photo)

Auto companies frequently feature video on their stands and so did Nammo. But in this case the screens showed the company’s air-, ship- and plane-launched missile products taking out cars and buildings. Those videos were convincing, believe you me.

There were still plenty of Humvees around, some in simulated desert conditions. (Jim Motavalli photo)

A surprising number of vendors sold clothing, and you could buy designer camouflage and headgear from Gore and other companies. Familiar brands abounded. Bose makes headphones—and military headsets. GE makes helicopter motors. Beretta services the military market.

Your next computer might be armored. (Jim Motavalli photo)

It was sobering to see on-site a number of organizations that address the rigors of military life, including the Military Spouse Advocacy Network, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and Yes, this was indeed a trade show with a difference. I didn’t make it over to see the tanks, but I understand they were just a floor away. Is it hard to get a permit to display a tank in the heart of the nation’s capitol?

Here's Oshkosh's JLTV on video:

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