DETROIT - Fictional spy James Bond's larger-than-life image just grew a little taller: Engineers from the U.S. Army's National Automotive Center studied James Bond films looking for high-tech gadgets to thwart rowdy crowds, well-armed terrorists and other low-life thugs.
They found plenty of weapons in the British secret agent's arsenal that just might have real-world potential.
Bond fans probably knew all along that a vehicle that shoots oil onto the road from under the rear bumper, generates billowing clouds of white smoke, drops tire-flattening tacks and comes with bullet-proof armor body panels and a roof-mounted laser can be deadly - as well as hard to stop.
That's what the Army's Ford F-350 'SmarTruck' is all about. A short film showing the truck leaving a U.S. embassy in what appeared to be a Middle East country drew two loud blasts of applause during a press conference Monday, March 5, at the SAE World Congress. In the film, soldiers in the high-tech truck deployed its weapons to fend off threats from shotgun-toting militants on motorcycles and bazooka-firing mercenaries in an old Mercedes-Benz.
'Your Army is thinking in the future, not the past, and at high speed,' said Maj. Gen. John Caldwell of the Army's Tank Command in Warren, Mich.
Though the SmarTruck is not in contention to replace the Humvee, military planners are seeking vehicles that are lighter, faster, safer, more lethal to enemies and less expensive to produce. That's why they based the SmarTruck on a regular production Ford.
'The closer we can align our needs with commercial vehicles, the cheaper it will be for the military,' Caldwell said.
He said a vehicle with some of the SmarTruck's attributes would be well suited to transport senior military government officials in dangerous areas where military forces are engaged in peace-keeping missions.
'The first thing we actually did was look at all the old James Bond movies,' said Dennis Wend, director of the U.S. Army's National Automotive Center.
But the vehicle could have some technology that would be a first for a combat machine. Engineers say it's possible to outfit the SmarTruck with an electro-magnetic pulse beam that could disable any vehicle that uses electricity - which is everything except bicycles. Though the roof-mounted laser wasn't functional on the concept vehicle at the SAE show, it may be soon, Wend said.
'There are many things we are working on that you didn't see (in the film),' Caldwell said.
A hybrid-electric drivetrain under development could boost performance of the heavy truck, enabling it reach 60 mph in about 7 seconds, he said.
Both Wend and Caldwell declined to say how much the black concept truck cost.