Defense Products and Services Group creates cutting-edge solutions to everyday problems that impact the effectiveness of warfighters. Company president Ken Fincher speaks about the unique and innovative Wunderbar towbar system and why fast vehicle-recovery speed is so critical.
They may not seem that significant, but in one of the Second World War's most important battles, explains Ken Fincher of the Defense Products and Services Group (DPSG), towbars played an essential role. The year was 1943, and the battle was Kursk: one of history's largest tank battles, fought between the
USSR and Germany.
"It was one of the most important aspects of the Russian victory," he says. "They were recovering their vehicles, and it was simple: they would put a new crew in, and they'd be ready to go the next day. Recovery is one of the reasons Russia was so successful there."
Now, 73 years later, the simple tool is more important than ever, Fincher says, with his company, DPSG, now providing its patented Wunderbar articulating vehicle towbar to militaries around the world, including the US Army, the British Ministry of Defence and the Scandinavian Alliance.
"We're trying to help standardise the US Army in line with adherence to NATO's standing specs," he adds. "Hopefully, we can do it in Europe, and we're trying to do the same in the Middle East."
The towbar being so critical, it's no surprise that a lot of companies manufacture them for the world's armed forces. But DPSG has a patent on what makes the Wunderbar so popular and successful: it's articulated.
"What makes us unique is the way the towbar works. To start with, it's just like your arms," Fincher says. "If you've ever backed up a vehicle to try to hook up a trailer, you know you have to go back and forth a couple of times to get the ball to go on your 2in hitch."
In peacetime, this isn't a huge issue - although it can lead to the drivers' foot being trapped between the two vehicles that are being attached. "You just have to drive back and forth a couple of times. As long as somebody's helping you, it's relatively easy," he says.
But in a warzone, things can be much more urgent and much more precarious. It was this urgency, combined with seeming inefficiency of the products already on the market, that led Fincher to develop his own version.
"I'd picked up a towbar that was really heavy, and I thought, 'There's got to be a way to come up with a lighter system,'," he says. "So I started looking through specialised materials and realised we could do things with them. What we offer is twice as strong and half the weight, and 50 times faster to use than a conventional towbar."
The Wunderbar is now approved for use on roads across the world. Folding up like arms to a person's chest, it doesn't obscure the driver's view - although some countries have been more cautious about letting it on the streets as it is.
"In Australia, we had to put a big, soft bag on the towbar, because they were worried that it would hurt pedestrians," says Fincher.
Fincher admits that the towbar isn't the most riveting subject, but points to several examples as proof of how important they can be in extreme circumstances. In most cases without it, he estimates, it might take between six and nine people up to 45 minutes to hook up a very heavy vehicle on flat land.
"So if you're on rough terrain, that can be an hour-long recovery," he says. "You have to dig in, you have to protect yourself, and you can have too many people trying to hook up the towbars."
This weight distinction and stronger design is crucial for understanding why the Wunderbar and its five variants (15, 20, 40, 80 and 150K gross vehicle weight ratings - and anyone who's trained to use one is trained to use them all) are better choices than other towbars in use.
Fincher often hears from customers using it in the field, including in active warzones. He received a call from Afghanistan two weeks ago, he says, thanking DSPG for a life saved by the use of the Wunderbar.
"They said, 'We got stuck, but we were able to jump out and hook it up, and in under a minute, we were out of there - just as we were starting to take some shooting. We got out of there before they could zero in on the rockets. We got out of there super fast.' The Wunderbar saved not only the soldiers' lives but also their vehicle. That's the whole point of what we're doing."
Established in 2009 in Virginia, DPSG produces carefully engineered military equipment using 3D solid modelling and finite element analysis (FEA) tools.
With a focus on creating cutting-edge solutions to everyday problems that affect the warfighter's effectiveness in the field, DPSG has developed and tested a suite of products and services. Built on proven technologies to meet and exceed current theatre requirements, these products can be deployed rapidly, and are mil-std-1472 SAE J847, FMVSS and CMVSS compliant. They are also fully CE certified and tested by the US Army at YPG, ATC and NATC.
DPSG's products can be easily integrated to any vehicle platform, and full automotive field service support, including training, is available to customers. Notable UK, US and CanadianBDAR experts have exclaimed that "all other towbars are now obsolete" compared with the line of Wunderbar towbars.
The Wunderbar can also be used to maximum effect in conjunction with DPSG's Safety Recovery Straps - lightweight safety-chain replacements made using a modern low-stretch synthetic material. This helps save lives in critical field situations by increasing the speed of recovery and reducing lifting injuries. With less than 1% stretch, the straps will not whiplash at failure, making them considerably safer. Rigging is also made easier in water, because the straps float.
In its drive to provide the highest-quality products to the warfighter, DPSG prioritises ease of use and, of course, safety for the end user. With a staff of engineers and armed-service personnel from Picatinny Arsenal, SOCOM, The Army and Marine Corp, the US Department of Defence, and technical specialists from the industry, DPSG is able to draw on expertise from a range of backgrounds. With past experience including General Dynamics, BAE, Booze Allen Hamilton, L3, John Deere, Volvo, Scientific Atlanta, Panasonic and Case Corporation, company employees bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to their work, allowing DSPG to provide consistent expert service.