AUSA News: Robotics ‘Most Promising Area’ of Army Vehicle Transformation

By Laura Heckmann
Ripsaw M5, Textron Systems’ RCV offering

Textron Systems photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Continuous transformation is one of four priorities laid out by Army chief of staff Gen. Randy George, and for the service’s combat vehicles, its most “promising” avenue is robotics.

“We have some opportunities to accelerate how we fight as an Army,” Brig. Gen. Michael Simmering, commandant of the United States Armor School, said during a panel discussion at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition Oct. 11. “Number one … robotics. Robotics is probably the most promising area that we have in the armored vehicle portfolio to fundamentally change how we fight.”

Brig. Gen. Geoffrey Norman, director of the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross Functional Team, said the Army’s robotic vehicles “really represent opportunities for new ways of fighting, for organizing differently and bringing new capabilities to the battlefield.”

The Army recently announced a downselect to four teams for the Robotic Combat Vehicle, which will move the program forward into the next phase. The vendors will be producing two vehicles each for subsequent evaluation,” he said. “But in reality, the RCV effort isn't about developing just the chassis … it's actually about four key components that, brought together, make up the RCV ecosystem.”

The ecosystem consists of the chassis, the network that connects the robotic combat vehicle to a control vehicle, the control vehicle and modular payloads, he said.

The modular payloads mounted on the robotic combat vehicles are what give them different capabilities than manned platforms, he said. “Capabilities that allow us to thicken … the functions of our crewed systems and the ability to cover more terrain or do things that we couldn't do without the robotic combat vehicles.”

The software connects it all, and “[represents] a great opportunity for continued development, collaboration and integration into this effort,” he said.

Michael Cadieux, director for the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center, said “a lot of experimentation” is happening with robotics, both in training centers and with partners, including how they interoperate with each other and in contested environments.

The RCV program has conducted two soldier operational experiments over the past two years. The second had more vehicles than the first, he said.

“And more recently than that, we've increased the complexity of the environment that they've been in,” he said. “So there's been a campaign of learning ongoing, where we've increased the scale of the robot involvement,” he said.

The next “significant event” for the RCV will be Project Convergence’s exercise next spring, he said. Lessons learned from past experiments were taken to the previous Project Convergence exercise, which he said offered continued learning “not only in reconnaissance and security, but also more expanded offensive operations and some defensive operations.”

“So we continue to increase the scope and scale of those experiments. And we'll continue to push the envelope moving forward.”

Gen. James Rainey, commanding general of Army Futures Command, has given “a pretty clear task” of producing minimum viable products “that we can put in the hands of soldiers in short order,” Norman said. While he said he couldn’t state the milestones publicly, he said the goal is “very aggressive and ambitious” and “we're gonna meet it. We're gonna get Robotic Combat Vehicle formations in the hands of soldiers ... so we can continue the learning.”

In the meantime, he said experimentation will continue at the National Training Center and “other discrete events to increase the scope and scale of the challenges that we’re overcoming on robotic combat vehicles.”

At the end of the day, the concept being supported is not robotic maneuver, Simmering said. “It's a robotic-enabled maneuver. It's humans and machines working together to get on to an objective. So that's where we're going with this.”

Additionally, the panel provided updates on platform modernization across the service, including the Abrams M1A2 SEPv3, XM30 Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicle, M2A4 Next-Generation Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle and the M-10 Booker.

For the M1A2s, Simmering said the Army has fielded “five of 16 Armored Brigade Combat Teams. We're on track to deliver nine of 16.” The first M2A4 is “out in the field already,” and the Army is in the process of delivering the second, he said. The Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle is on track to deliver “five of 11 … active duty Armored Brigade Combat Teams.”

The XM30, the replacement for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, recently announced two teams moving forward that will produce seven prototypes each, “and we'll take those into limited user tests and soldier vehicle assessments in the coming years,” Norman said.

The M10 Booker “will arrive at Fort Liberty this coming year,” Simmering added. “Soldiers are already on orders at this point in time to go to Fort Liberty next spring, to be ready to train on those platforms.”

Norman added the test units at Fort Liberty “will form … the core of the first battalion that gets fielded with the initial operational capability, being in fiscal year [2025]. So by this time next year, that unit will have completed their new equipment training, and they're going to be in the throes of the initial operational test and evaluation.”

Topics: Army News

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