Army Robotic Combat Vehicle Advances
NOVI, Michigan — The Army’s effort to field the Robotic Combat Vehicle has completed a major soldier experimentation phase, and the team behind the phase two prototype is looking forward to the next stage of the competition for the RCV-Light variant.
QinetiQ US and Pratt Miller Engineering joined forces in 2020 to combine the former’s Modular Open System Architecture robotic capabilities with the latter’s Expeditionary Modular Autonomous Vehicle platform to compete for the RCV-L program.
QinetiQ US had been vying for the Army’s Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport program, but the vehicle platform it was using wasn’t satisfactory, said Robert Mawson, QinetiQ’s senior business development manager, land systems. So, when RCV started moving forward, the company turned to Pratt Miller’s platform.
“It was really the mobility and how modular it is,” he said at the Ground Vehicle Systems Engineering and Technology Symposium in August. “With that flat top, you’re able to plug and play different payloads when needed, depending on the mission profile or capability set that you need.”
The Army selected the QinetiQ/Pratt Miller vehicle as the surrogate prototype to put through operational testing to develop the requirements for the open competition set for late fiscal year 2023.
The base platform is a tracked, diesel-electric hybrid weighing a little more than 10 tons, with a 3.5-ton payload capacity. The platform can hit 40 mph and can be outfitted with a range of remotely operated weapons and sensors, according to a QinetiQ release.
“Depending on the payload and the modular mission payload that you put on it, there’s always going to have to be a soldier in the loop,” said Mawson.
“So, it will never truly be fully autonomous,” he continued. “You have to scale up the level of autonomy depending on the mission that you’re accomplishing, so it can go everywhere from true remote control to semi-autonomous.”
Soldiers in a control vehicle would move behind several RCVs and provide input on how to maneuver around obstacles or how to respond to contact, he said.
And as representatives of Pratt Miller and QinetiQ were attending the symposium organized by the Michigan chapter of the National Defense Industrial Association, their prototype vehicles were in the blazing sun at Fort Hood, Texas, going through the final days of a month-long soldier operational experiment.
Described as the “largest ground robotic experiment in history” in an Aug. 17 Army news article, the experiment had soldiers putting the QinetiQ/Pratt Miller RCV-L and Textron RCV-Medium prototypes through “reconnaissance and security tasks against a ‘near-peer’” opposition force to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the platforms. The experimentation is part of phase two of a development process that would see the robotic vehicles fielded in 2028.
“The testing has gone well,” Mawson said. “We are getting some really good … feedback from the touch points from the soldiers in the field as to what needs to improve and what could possibly improve.”
The Army is taking the data gathered during the experimentation to refine the requirements that will go into the request for proposals for the next phase of the program. That document should be out later this year, and then industry will have several months to provide feedback before the request is finalized, Mawson said.
“We’ve been hearing some of the requirements that could possibly be in there as far as if there might be some sort of wet-gap crossing or amphibious-type capability,” he said. “We know that signature management is going to be important, so we’re looking at different ways to have that capability.”
In general, the requirements the Army has been seeking for the program have been reasonable, and industry has had ample opportunity to inform the government what is possible with current technology, he said.
“There were only a few requirements … that seemed very extreme, but overall, they truly understood what was mature and what wasn’t,” he said.