The M104 Wolverine Heavy Assault Bridge is an armored military engineering vehicle created by General Dynamics Land Systems, designed to provide deployable bridge capability for units engaged in military operations.
Since the 1960s the US Army has made use of armored bridge-laying vehicles based on the M48 Patton/M60 series of tanks. In recent years, however, the Army discovered that the aging M60 AVLB (Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge) was too slow to keep up with the M1 Abrams during field maneuvers. Additionally, the Abrams was so heavy that it could safely cross the AVLB's bridge only at a very slow speed.
Program development for a new armored bridge-laying vehicle began in 1983, and by 1994 General Dynamics Land Systems and the German MAN Mobile Bridges GmbH (since 2005 Krauss-Maffei Wegmann) had been awarded a contract. The first prototype vehicles were being tested by 1996, and the first production models were delivered by 2003.
Because the Wolverine is essentially an M1A2 SEP tank with bridge-laying gear instead of a turret, it shares virtually all of the parent vehicle's speed, mobility, survivability, and automotive components. This commonality was a key design factor in the Wolverine's development. The Wolverine also features an advanced communications package designed to keep it in contact with local field commanders. However, the vehicle itself is completely unarmed.
The Wolverine is operated by two crewmen who sit within the hull. Both crewmen have access to the bridging controls, while the bridge itself is carried in two sections above the hull. Once a bridging site is chosen the vehicle securely anchors itself in place with a spade. The two sections of the bridge are joined together, and then the entire bridge is extended across the obstacle and dropped into place. During launch the crewmen have the ability to make minor corrections if needed. Once operations are complete the Wolverine drives across the bridge and retrieves it from the other side simply by reversing the process. The bridge can be launched in under 5 minutes or retrieved in less than 10, all without the crewmen ever leaving the safety of their vehicle.
The bridging controls are a basic push button system while the computer assembles the bridge and deploys it. This limits the crew in their ability to make corrections based on slight mis-alignment of the chassis before deployment. The bridge must be fully extended, then recovered before corrections in chassis placement can be done. The M60 AVLB (Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge) system was completed by levers and buttons the operator must operate manually, thus giving them the ability to stop bridge deployment and make minute chassis adjustments without having to completely stow the bridge.
Once launched, the 26-meter bridge can support a 70-ton vehicle moving at 16 km/h, or 9.94 miles per hour. The Wolverine thus allows the heaviest of vehicles to cross craters, ditches, and damaged bridges at combat speed. This mobility is a decisive advantage for armored units.
Future of the M104
To date the United States Army has received 44 Wolverines, which have been distributed to a few select engineer units. The army had originally intended to purchase 465 vehicles; however, budget cuts and the recent shift in philosophy toward a lighter fighting force have cast the future of the program in doubt. The army does not plan to purchase any more Wolverines, but it has reserved the right to restart production if necessary.
The U.S. Army and Marine Corps are planning to replace the Wolverine with the DRS Technologies Joint Assault Bridge (JAB), which also has an Abrams tank chassis, but is combined with an 18.3 metres (60 ft)-long scissor bridge. While the M104 was intended to replace the AVLB, it was found to be too expensive and complicated to maintain and operate. While the JAB's bridge is shorter, it has a faster deployment time of three minutes compared to the Wolverine's 3-5 minute set-up time. First deliveries are planned in mid-2017, with low-rate initial production expected to be reached in 2019.
- List of U.S. military vehicles by model number
- Armoured vehicle-launched bridge
- AM 50 automatically launched assault bridge
- M60A1 AVLB
- List of vehicles of the U.S. Armed Forces
- "Wolverine (Heavy Assault Bridge)". fas.org. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
- Army, DRS Set To Integrate New Bridging System on Tanks - Defensenews.com, 6 September 2016