TAE Gas Turbines have recently delivered the first Abrams tank engine back to the Army after undergoing a major overhaul in its facility at RAAF Base Amberley.
Nigel Pittaway | Amberley
Previously, the Honeywell AGT1500 gas turbine engine which powers the tank had to be shipped back to the US for overhaul at a US Army repair depot in Alabama – a process which could take between 9-12 months before the power-plant returned to Australian soil and cost up to $500,000 per unit.
The overhauled engine also had a TAE Health and Usage Monitoring (HUMS) system fitted during overhaul and the Australian Army is the first Abrams operator in the world to adopt the system.
Australia purchased 59 refurbished Abrams M1A1 Main Battle Tanks from the US in 2004 and they will remain in service until at least 2035. The recent Defence White Paper forecasts a capability upgrade in the near future, to be carried out under project Land 907 Phase 2.
The 15,000 shaft horsepower (shp) AGT1500 has amassed over 24 million hours of operation worldwide and is a modular design, meaning that the power unit can be split apart in the field. Though for all intents and purposes identical to US Marine Corps tanks, Australia's M1A1 Abrams have not enjoyed the same reliability – a phenomenon attributable to the harsh local operating environment, but also to the way Army uses its fleet.
“HUMS has the potential to save the operator a significant amount of money through the operating life of the engine.”
Army Head of Modernisation and Strategic Planning Major General Gus McLachlan recently hosted personnel from the US Army’s Tank and Automotive Command (TACOM) in Michigan to investigate what he describes as ‘very significant and reliability issues’ with the Abrams fleet in Australia.
“At the end of it the Americans back-briefed me, saying we are using our tanks at 10 times the rate of a similar American unit and also, we use them on terrain that our soldiers would never contemplate crossing,” he told delegates at the SimTecT 2016 conference in Melbourne recently.
A further difference between the two Abrams operators is that the Australian Army runs the AGT1500 engine on diesel, where US forces use Aviation Turbine (AVTUR) fuel.
TAE overhaul facility
TAE signed an agreement with Honeywell Aerospace, the original equipment manufacturer, in June 2014 for the total logistics support for the AGT1500 engine from its facility at Amberley. The facility had previously been used to support the Pratt & Whitney TF-30 turbofan engine installed in the F-111 fleet and was specially modified for the overhaul of the AGT1500.
Honeywell and TAE jointly invested in the training of local staff and today around 16 people are directly involved in the AGT1500 engine overhaul, out of a total footprint of 110 people with the company at Amberley.
The Army has 85 engines to support the 59 tanks and Honeywell Asia Pacific vice president Mark Burgess said that the relationship with TAE has significantly reduced turnaround times and resulted in a happy customer.
TAE signed the support contract with Army in February last year, which CEO Andrew Sanderson says covers the major overhaul of 66 engines and provisions for the repair of 27 additional units over a five year period. By August this year, the first overhauled engine had been returned to Army and there were a further three units undergoing overhaul in the Amberley workshop. Sanderson said that throughput is planned to stabilise at 17 engines per year.
Although there is as yet no agreement to do so, the facility is well-placed to provide support to US Marine Corps Abrams tanks which are based in the NT for months at a time as part of the Marine Rotational Force Darwin (MRF-D) arrangement.
In 2012 TAE bought a Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) from Perkins Engineering and adapted it to suit the AGT1500 engine; the system will now undergo evaluation under operational conditions in one of the Army’s Abrams.
The HUMS measures pressures and temperatures at points within the engine and the information is downloaded to a Data Memory Modular (DMM) and then taken off-board using wireless technology and sent to TAE. The system is similar to that in use in the civil aviation world and can be used to monitor the ongoing performance of an engine and signal impending faults. Timely preventative maintenance can perhaps then be prescribed, avoiding the time and cost of removing the engine and sending it back to the workshop for overhaul or repair.
Sanderson says that the system has the potential to save the operator a significant amount of money through the operating life of the engine and, given the worldwide fleet of Abrams tanks numbers in the thousands, there is a significant export market.
Disclaimer: The writer travelled to Amberley as a guest of Honeywell
This article first appeared in the November2016 edition of ADM.