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Modernized M9 Armored Combat Earthmover Joins the U.S. Marine Corps

Although the hull may look the same, the four overhauled M9 Armored Combat Earthmovers (ACE) that arrived at Camp Lejeune, N.C. on Feb. 26, are a marked improvement on the legacy ACEs. And they should be, considering that they are improving upon a system that first entered service before many of the Marine combat engineers who operate them were born. According to a U.S. Marine Corps release, the upgraded M9s are ready for service.

They are improving upon a system that first entered service before many of the Marine combat engineers who operate them were born.

The upgraded M9 ACE is a step up from the aging legacy ACE that entered service before Operation Desert Storm. “There were performance issues and reliability issues that were becoming a major problem,” said  Joe Klocek, product manager for Engineer Systems at U.S. Marine Corps Systems Command, Quantico, Va. “The initial system was fielded before Operation Desert Storm, so we were dealing with some ‘70s technology.” Included in that 1970s technology were intricate hard-piped hydraulic lines, which posed manpower taxing fixes, as well as a lever-based operating systems that limited precision. Visibility was also a problem for the old M9 ACE, with the hatch needing to be closed during combat operations. “Imagine trying to punch through an anti-tank ditch, 12 feet deep and eight feet wide, and not being able to see anything,” Klocek said.

M9 Armored Combat Earthmover

The cockpit of the new and improved M9 Armored Combat Earthmover (ACE) provides the operator with several camera systems that allow the operator a 360 degree view of what’s around the ACE. The M9 ACE is the improved version of the legacy ACE, and has an upgraded and reinforced hull, more powerful engine and improved hydraulic system. Cpl. Michael Dye

The six to eight years it took to develop the upgraded system involved tearing down and redesigning the M9. “The new M9 ACE has an upgraded hull, improved hydraulic system, bigger engine and an added front camera system so now the operator can see what is going on in front of him,” said Capt. Gregory B. Procaccini, the M9 ACE project officer. The increased power provided by the bigger engine means that the M9 ACE can keep up in convoys and will not need to be hauled by truck. “The upgraded engine really gives this machine more power and it’s able to move dirt more efficiently,” said Kubach. Maintenance issues should also be eased. “I believe the Marines are going to enjoy the way this equipment operates and how much easier it is going to be to maintain,” said Procaccini.

The camera system will allow the M9 ACE to be more precise with its movements. “On the old system it was pretty much done by feel,” said Sgt. Robert Kubach, the operations chief for the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion. “You would have to know your machine, how it feels, how it’s sitting, the sound of the engine; everything played a factor when you were moving dirt.  Now with the camera system, it takes a lot of the guess work out of it and gives it more of an exact feel.”

“The new M9 ACE has an upgraded hull, improved hydraulic system, bigger engine and an added front camera system so now the operator can see what is going on in front of him.”

The lever based operating system has also been replaced with joysticks. “Now I have a lot more control over how I move that dirt and how I move the vehicle with the joysticks,” said Kubach.

The long development time was considered worth it, thanks to the capabilities it provides to Marine Corps combat engineers. The M9 ACE provides Marines with a highly mobile armored tracked vehicle that can eliminate enemy obstacles, maintain and repair roads and supply routes, and construct fighting positions.

M9 Armored Combat Earthmover

Sgt. Robert Kubach, the operations chief for 2nd Combat Engineering Battalion operates the improved M9 Armored Combat Earthmover during a familiarization exercise Feb. 26, 2014, , Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 26, 2014. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Michael Dye

Marines from the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Divison, had positive things to say about the M9 after familiarizing themselves with the new equipment. “The M9 ACE is a lot better than the old one,” said Kubach. “The upgraded engine really gives this machine more power and it’s able to move dirt more efficiently.”

“The M9 ACE is a lot better than the old one,” said Kubach. “The upgraded engine really gives this machine more power and it’s able to move dirt more efficiently.”

A rotational schedule has been established for legacy M9 ACEs so that they can be turned in to the production site in Albany, Ga. There they will undergo a transformation and emerge as modernized M9 ACEs. The effort to modernize the M9 ACE was led by Marine Corps Systems Command. The first four M9 ACEs are are at Camp Lejeune, with three serving with the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion and one serving with the 8th Engineer Support Battalion.

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Steven Hoarn is the Editor/Photo Editor for Defense Media Network. He is a graduate of...