Monday, May 3, 2010

The Chavis Turret

On October 14, 2006, Airman First Class Leebernard E. Chavis, assigned to the USAF’s 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, was killed by an enemy sniper near Baghdad, Iraq as he sat in the turret of his armored Hummer. He working as part of a U.S. military police training team supporting Iraqi police. Ironically, the USAF’s M1116 HMMWV has been ahead of its counterparts in the area of gun shield protection – but this death was not unusual in and of itself. What was unusual was the response by his compatriots.

Maintenance workers from the 447th Air Expeditionary Group approached 732nd ESF Sqn security forces personnel who work the streets of Baghdad. Their goal: create a whole new turret design built for the urban battlefield. Using pieces cannibalized from junked or wrecked vehicles, old parts and scrounged materials, their cooperative did just that – and their “Chavis turret” design is winning high praise. In fact, it’s doing more than that – it’s headed into early production.

Chavis Turret
By the time the group’s initial design was complete, they sensed they had something special:
“We believe this new turret design solves many or all of the vulnerabilities that earlier designs have missed… We’ve had a lot of really positive comments from Det. 7 and the Army personnel.” said 447th commander Colonel Gregory Marston. “Right now, there’s no standardization in terms of up-armored humvee turret designs. People have altered them a lot of them on their own, but they still had problems.”

“We were able to protect almost all of the gaps that are in other modified turret designs,” said Tiger Team Staff Sgt. Derrick Bowman “One big benefit is the increased protection from improvised explosive devices. That was one of the biggest things the Det. 7 guys we talked to were worried about. We also added a removable wire cutter to the front of the shield to protect the lead truck from choke wires strung under overpasses.”

M1116 USAF Up-Armored HMMWV
USAF M1116 Up-Armored

The turret was tested in-house, but quickly expanded its horizons by involving Col. Gerard Jolivette, U.S. Central Command Air Forces’ director of force protection, and the Air Force Security Forces Force Protection Battlelab. John Schneider, lead engineer with the rapid prototyping specialists of NAVSEA Crane Division and a former Marine rifleman, was brought in. 

In under 80 days, Schneider’s team assembled and shipped a protective, igloo-shaped structure that included 10”x10” panels of ballistic glass, and the same 3/8-inch rolled ballistic steel used to armor Hummer door panels. The structure is built to accommodate a heavy weapon and still rotate smoothly and safely, while preserving all-around vision and remaining open enough to admit sound and keep the gunner aware.

Instead of stateside field evaluations, the USCENTAF force protection staff did another smart thing: they brought the next-iteration prototype to the front lines at Sather Air Base, Iraq. Less than 80 days had passed since AFC Chavis’ death.
Chavis Turret Original Marston et al
Marston et. al. with original design 
With a few additional modifications underway as a result of feedback from the front lines, the prototype turret now has the green light from U.S. Central Command Air Force leaders. Soon, 60 operational turrets will be deployed, with the USAF Battlelab estimating shipment of the first 5 “in late March” 2007.

The turret certainly appears to be a major step forward over existing gun shield systems of various designs, which have slowly been added to vehicles from trucks (vid. MCATS design) to armored personnel carriers as death tolls have risen. Col. Marston is also quite correct in stating that “there’s no standardization in terms of up-armored humvee turret designs.”

Having built and demonstrated a better mousetrap, perhaps it’s time that there was.

This article can be found in its original entirety here.  

1 comment:

  1. We built two prototypes initially from scrap wreckage in Oct 2006-Dec2007 by my order. I named it after a fallen Airman killed by a sniper in Baghdad; I originated the idea after attending his memorial services in Oct 2006. On Christmas Day 2006 I briefed and showed our Version 1 and 2 prototype turrets to the USAF CENTAF Commander, LtGen North. We had tested these already in Baghdad patrols and they generated a lot of buzz because they were such an improvement over the standard USAF turret. Gen North was deeply impressed by our ingenuity and wanted to know how long it would take more of these models. Being a front-line unit we could only produce one a week, only if we added full-time welders and received adequate amounts of real armor plating. The CENTAF staff took our blueprints and concept and produced the Version 3 Chavis Turret in 2007. My team and I are very proud to have helped add a long-term solution to thwart the scourge of snipers and IEDs in Iraq.

    Col Gregory L. Marston (ret)