The U.S. Military M274 Truck, Platform, Utility, 1/2 Ton, 4X4 or “Carrier, Light Weapons, Infantry, 1/2 ton, 4×4” aka “Mule,” “Military Mule,” or “Mechanical Mule” is a 4-wheel drive, gasoline-powered truck/tractor type vehicle that can carry up to a 1/2 ton off-road. It was introduced in 1956 and used until the 1980s. Now it is a military vehicle collectors’ item.
Originally it was designed as a battlefield medical evacuation vehicle. It was intended to operate in the areas, that were not accessible to the jeeps. Later it evolved into a multi-role carrier, intended for airborne and infantry battalions. The Willys design entered service with the US armed forces in 1956 as the M274 and supplemented the 1/4 ton (250 kg capacity) jeep and 3/4 ton (750 kg capacity) trucks. At that time militaries of other countries also developed small battlefield support vehicles, that could deliver troops and cargo to the frontline. In the late 1950s Haflinger was developed in Austria and LuAZ-967 in the Soviet Union.
Initially these vehicles were produced by Willys. Later variants were consequently produced by Bowen-McLaughlin-York, Baifield Industries and Brunswick Corporation. Production ceased in 1970. A total of 11 240 Mechanical Mules were produced. The M274 was widely used during Vietnam War.
By the 1980s Mechanical Mules were phased out of service. These were replaced by HMMWVs. However the HMMWV is a much larger vehicle. The need for a small and versatile vehicle was not fully met. In the 2000s the John Deere M-Gator was adopted as a modern version of the Mechanical Mule.
The M274 Mechanical Mule has a payload capacity of 455 kg off-road. It was used for many tasks including transport of troops and cargo. It was used to evacuate injured soldiers from the battlefield. It was also used as a weapon carrier. The Mechanical Mule was fitted with recoilless rifle and TOW anti-tank missile carrier. It was often used to carry 7.62-mm and 12.7-mm machine guns.
The M274 and its versions all have the same size platform, made of magnesium alloy. The driver’s seat and foot basket can be detached and stored under the vehicle. The steering column could be set in multiple positions, so the driver can operate the vehicle fr