A military tank for wildfire suppression?

An electrician wrote a column for Fire Chief Magazine’s blog suggesting that military battle tanks be converted to armored fire trucks. Here is an excerpt:

…What I am referring to specifically is some type of all-terrain track-driven platform: a battle tank. With the theaters of war winding down, we must have hundreds if not thousands of these machines sitting in inventories that could be retrofitted for this purpose. Such vehicles could go anywhere, pump fire suppression products in any direction, get out of trouble as quickly as it can get into it.

The US Army’s M1 tanks (M1A1 and M1A2) weigh 135,200 pounds. The weight limit on semi trucks on interstate highways is 80,000 pounds. Much like trying to convert an airliner or war plane into a usable air tanker, a military tank could undergo a conversion process and be made lighter by removing the weapons and some of the depleted uranium armor. How much lighter, who knows, but where are you going to use it if it is lightened to 110,000, or 100,000 pounds. And how are you going to get it to a fire? There will also be some land managers who will not agree to having a 100,000 pound tracked vehicle driving on their property. You probably have seen the large divots left when a dozer operating off the road turns. And a Caterpillar D6 dozer weighs 36,000 pounds, about 100,000 pounds less than an M1 tank.

This is another example of trying to fight fire on the cheap, taking equipment designed for a completely different mission and attempting to use it for a critical emergency services function where efficiency and safety are critical and lives could be at stake. It’s trying to force a round peg into a square hole. With enough force it can be done, but both the peg and the hole will be compromised. Too many pilots have died flying military bombers that someone tried to convert into an air tanker, flying low and slow into canyons, something completely different from, for example, maritime patrol, the designated mission of the P2V.

The video below was embedded along with the blog. Notice at the one-minute mark the effect on the pavement when the first tank leaves the garage, then stops and turns.


Thanks go out to Dick

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

8 thoughts on “A military tank for wildfire suppression?”

  1. Terrible idea. I would love to see the amount of re-vegetation work needed after a battalion of tanks with squirt guns “attacked” a fire. I’m sure it would be lots of fun driving and riding around in one, but talk about a logistical nightmare. We rarely get planes on IA. Where would these dispatch out of? Imagine moving a tank from Boise to SolCal on a trailer.

  2. How many of our western fires are in terrain that a converted armored personnel carrier could reasonably negotiate?

    How many fires are reasonably accessible by the HET’s [heavy equipment transporters] required to get the tracked vehicle near the scene?

    Not many in my neighborhood here on the front range in Colorado.

  3. This was a funny video. The only thing I saw on it that might be nice is the small UAVs. Don’t think it was a very good idea to have the intake connection inside that back door, it would be pretty useless if the doors failed.

  4. We already done it with a M113 in Corsica southern France. We have one module with 2 armoured tracked vehicles. We use it on real operation on wildfire suppression southern FRANCE. It’ a very efficient new solution and cheap economic model. Welcome to test this solution together and build an international partnership with australia and USA if you are interested.
    http://www.atrisc.com : crisis management
    Corsica Fire département : international wildfire experts
    Movie on you tube

  5. During the 2003 fire siege in California, a military tank (German Model) was utilized on several fires. Specifically, it was used in the community of Angelus Oaks during the Old Fire.

        1. From the spec sheet at the web site –
          MBT Leopard 1 Main Battle Tank

          I believe the Leopard is a West German design.


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