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30 Jan 20. Dumb or smart? The future of military robots. As armies look to advance their use of robots, they are faced with the choice of either developing ‘dumb’ software able to follow human instructions, or ‘smart’ technology that can carry out tasks autonomously. Both systems raise questions, as Ross Davies reports.
It has been over 20 years since a contract was first drawn up to develop the PackBot, a multi-mission tactical mobile robot.
One of the PackBot’s first deployments was to trawl the remains of the World Trade Centre following the 9/11 attacks. In 2002, it was used by US troops in Afghanistan in dealing with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The current model, the 510, comes with a videogame-style controller, allowing operators the capability of lifting up to thirty pounds worth of IEDs.
According to data from publicly available US military contracts, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, per unit, on the 510. Beyond the PackBot, the military is now one of the biggest funders and adopters of artificial intelligence technology, as it looks to fashion more sophisticated weapon systems.
A case in point is the work that has been taking place within the US Army research laboratory (ARL) over the last decade. As part of an alliance with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon University – together with the likes of NASA and robotics firm Boston Dynamics – researchers have created a software that enables robots to carry out tasks based on verbal instructions.
Controlled by a tablet, and utilising deep learning, future robots will not only be able to proceed ahead of troops to identify IEDs and ambushes, but also return detailed data on targets. Speaking to the MIT Technology Review in November, project leader Stuart Young compared the technology to a military dog, “in terms of teaming with humans”.
But, unlike a military dog, the software also enables a question-asking function in order to deal with the numerous ambiguities encountered within the theatre of conflict. For instance, if a robot is told to approach a building, it might ask for further clarification, such as: “Do you mean the building on the right or on the left?”
Making decisions: The latest developments in ‘smart’ robotics
This kind of technology falls under the category of ‘dumb’ robots – software designed to follow instructions given by humans. It is very much part of the legacy that began with PackBot. However, when it comes to the future of military robots, the field of ‘smart’, autonomous robotics is drawing the most attention.
Last year, the cover was blown on a secret Marine Corps project known as Sea Mob. According to reports, prototype tests have already been carried out on a fleet of inflatable ‘ghost fleet’ vessels piloted by AI-enabled hardware off the coast of Virginia. While the Marine Corps has gone to lengths to keep further details under wraps, it is believed that Sea Mob marks the first step in completely autonomous naval weaponry which can operate without human intervention.
The US Navy is conducting tests on the Sea Hunter, a ship that could be able to detect and attack enemy submarines without any input whatsoever from command control. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, in 2018 the UK unveiled plans to replace its RAF Typhoon aircraft with the Tempest fighter jet.
According to the Ministry of Defence, the Tempest will be equipped with AI and machine learning to fly unmanned and hit targets. It will also carry onboard directed energy weapons, and be able to operate alongside semi-autonomous ‘wingman’ UAVs. Deployment is scheduled for some point in the 2030s.
No to killer robots: Are autonomous weapons ethical in the field of conflict?
The introduction of AI to military weapons does not sit well with everyone, however. This has sparked the creation of the Human Rights Watch-led International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC), which is campaigning for a multilateral ban on lethal autonomous weapon systems (AWS).
ICRAC’s argument is threefold. Firstly, the group says, it is impossible to ensure AWS’ compliance with International Humanitarian Law, particularly when it comes to distinguishing between combatants and civilians. Secondly, machines have moral limitations, given their inability to understand what it means to be in a state of law, much less ending a human life.
Thirdly, ICRAC fears AWS could have a detrimental impact on global security, particularly in the event of their use by actors not accountable to legal frameworks governing the use of force.
“Lethal autonomous weapon systems are those in which the critical functions of target selection and initiation of violent force have been delegated to the system in ways that preclude meaningful human control,” says Lucy Suchman, professor of anthropology and science and technology at Lancaster University, who is also an ICRAC member.
“The position of the campaign is that the design of weapon systems must render them incapable of operating without meaningful human control. This would, by definition, render lethal autonomous weapons illegal.”
Suchman, however, says she has “no problem” with ‘dumb’, remotely control technology, provided it has “no capacity to cause injury itself.”
Further questions: Tackling glitches and hacking threats
Irrespective of whether a military robot is ‘dumb’ or ‘smart’, questions remain around the use of AI in a military setting.
So far there is little to no evidence of current AI-enabled systems ever being entirely fault-free. Consumers voice recognition devices such as Amazon Echo and Siri, for instance, regularly mishear or misinterpret commands. But the ramifications of such mistakes taking place in the home are hardly comparable to those that might occur on the battlefield.
With the rise of cyberwarfare, there are also misgivings over what might happen in the event of a military robot being hacked. Is it conceivable that robots designed to reduce the number of soldiers on the ground – in turn, limiting human collateral – could have the opposite effect and only increase conflict?
These points will need to be addressed before the next steps are taken in the field of military robotics.
29 Jan 20. Serval design seeks to underscore mobility, protection. Details of the Serval 4×4 armoured fighting vehicle, designed and manufactured by Nexter and Texelis, were revealed at the International Armoured Vehicles (IAV) conference in late January in London.
The first few of a planned 15 prototypes are complete and undergoing a series of factory and off-road trials, and variant qualification is expected to begin in 2021 and continue until 2023, according to a joint presentation by Michael Duckworth, head of export sales at Nexter, and Jean Vandel, managing director of Texelis. They added that there are as many as 25 variants of the vehicle planned for the French Army. (Source: Jane’s)
29 Jan 20. Patria’s 6×6 platform chosen as part of a joint Finnish-Latvian vehicle development programme. Finland and Latvia have agreed on a joint development programme for sustained army mobility enhancement to which Patria is to deliver a 6×6 vehicle chassis platform. This joint programme aims at development of a common armoured wheeled vehicle system. The programme is also open for other countries by mutual consent of Finland and Latvia. In case the development will lead to actual vehicle system procurements in the future, the common system will enhance mobility, cost-efficiency, interoperability and security of supply of the armies in both countries.
“This is an important opening for us, and we hope to see this new vehicle version in production as part of this programme. Patria 6×6 vehicle is our top-notch product combining excellent terrain mobility and ease of use. Long life-span and easy maintenance make it very cost-efficient. It adapts into several missions. Naturally, it would be great if there were also other countries joining forces with Finland and Latvia,” says Jussi Järvinen, president of Patria’s Land business unit.
Patria 6×6 vehicle combines all the best features of Patria’s XA and AMV vehicles. It is simplified, reliable and designed to fill the highest requirements of customers. Its state-of-the-art terrain mobility is guaranteed by an efficient power unit and the independent suspension familiar from the Patria AMV vehicle. Due to the spacious cabin and well-defined functions it is easy to drive and user training simple. Reliability is underlined by the multitude of commercial components used in the vehicle. Commercial components, long life-span and easy maintenance make the vehicle extremely cost-efficient.
The key areas in Patria’s Land business unit include armoured wheeled vehicles, mortar systems and related life cycle support services. Business unit employs 230 people in Hämeenlinna and Tampere.
28 Jan 20. Chinese armoured units conducts high-altitude drills with unmanned systems. China has carried out several days of exercises involving armoured units working alongside robotic and autonomous systems (RAS), it has emerged. The exercise, which took place on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau in August 2019 and has only recently come to the attention of Jane’s, was reported by China Central Television (CCTV) as the first military exercise involving Chinese armour and RAS in altitudes of up to 4,200m.
Various tactics were exercised by the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force’s (PLAGF’s) 76th Synthetic Brigade (formerly 21st Group) while training to engage in realistic combat conditions in a snow-laden landscape, according to the CCTV report. Exercise phases explored included Type 99A main battle tanks (MBTs) launching attacks on identified targets, remote ground clearance operations, manned/unmanned teaming (MUM-T), various live fire drills, and the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in swarms.
After the initial artillery fire was completed, remotely operated mine-clearing robots moved in to open up routes through minefields, even as surrounding fire continued. The mine-clearing robots transmitted images and data back to a control centre installed within a Type 99A MBT, followed by any required detonation of mines, CCTV noted, adding that the Type 99A used all the information gained from the various platforms’ sensors to exchange data with combat UGVs to obtain a complete common operating picture.
An offensive swarm of quadcopter mini-UAVs then descended on the fictitious opponent to conduct reconnaissance. Some of the swarm carried bombs and explosives to co-ordinate attacks with ground forces in order to strike enemy personnel and ground fortifications. (Source: Jane’s)
28 Jan 20. Indian Army seeks tank APUs from local producers. The Indian Army (IA) is seeking expression of interest (EOI) responses from indigenous vendors by 4 March to its plan to locally design and manufacture 3,257 auxiliary power units (APUs) for its fleet of T-72M1 and T-90S main battle tanks (MBTs). The value of the work has been put at INR13.25bn (USD195.9m). In an EOI request issued on 27 January the IA’s Directorate General of Mechanised Forces (DGMF) enumerated its requirement as being for 1,657 APUs for the army’s T-90Ss and 1,600 for its T-72M1s, with each unit priced at INR3m. The IA’s T-90S and T-72M1 MBTs currently operate without APUs. (Source: Jane’s)
28 Jan 20. German soldiers told to pretend that cars are tanks. The German army is so short of tanks it is using cars in exercises and telling troops to pretend they are jumping out of a tank.
The defence ministry confirmed that troops were using “other vehicles to practise mounting and dismounting” to cope with a shortage of working Puma infantry fighting vehicles.
Bild reported that the use of cars was part of what the military called alternative solutions to the lack of working Pumas for training. The case echoes an incident in which German troops on a Nato exercise in Norway in 2014 had to use a broomstick painted black to simulate a missing gun on a GTK Boxer armoured fighting vehicle.
The ministry said that it was “not satisfied” with the operational readiness of the Puma, a prestige project for the defence industry. Bild said that only about 20 per cent of the Pumas allocated to five of the army’s mechanised infantry battalions were in working order.
Internal papers blamed the shortage on a lack of spare parts and slow maintenance. It could worsen in 2023 and 2024 when about 100 Pumas will be in workshops for long-planned refits.
The Bundeswehr has ordered 350 Pumas, described in Germany as the world’s most advanced infantry fighting vehicle, to replace its ageing Marder tanks. Germany has long been criticised by its Nato allies for not spending enough on defence. Successive governments slashed defence spending after the Cold War and troops have been complaining about shortages for years. (Source: The Times)
27 Jan 20. Navistar loses lawsuit against US Army and Oshkosh over vehicle buys. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has ruled in favor of the U.S. Army’s decision to go with only one source for its Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles for more than 10 years, denying Navistar’s lawsuit brought against the service and FMTV-maker Oshkosh Defense for not competitively procuring the vehicle.
Following the Army’s initial five-year contract to buy FMTVs from Oshkosh, the service chose a sole-source procurement route with the company, arguing it didn’t have time to reopen competition because of urgent needs.
Since 2009, the Army has spent more than $6bn on FMTVs from Oshkosh. FMTVs are used for a wide variety of missions, including transporting for different cargo and missile defense radars.
Navistar filed its lawsuit with the court in early August 2019. A bench trial was held Nov. 26, and a sealed decision was rendered Dec. 13. The court’s decision was unsealed this month.
Navistar had filed a protest over the FMTV decision with the Government Accountability Office. But Navistar decided to sue the Army after the company said it was getting nowhere in its quest to get the Army to produce documents that would show the service’s reasoning to continue to order more vehicles from Oshkosh without competition and without proper legal justification.
The company contended that the Army did not justify and had improperly awarded its most recent sole-source FMTV procurement in 2019 to Oshkosh, and that the service failed to provide proper notice to possible competitors in accordance with federal acquisition regulations and the Competition in Contracting Act, according to an extensive review of court documents by Defense News.
In addition, the Army also ignored a stop-work order, which automatically went into effect when the GAO protest was filed.
Navistar filed two complaints: One that claims the Army violated the law when it continued to buy Oshkosh vehicles outside of the scope of its contract without holding a competition, and another that claims the Army illegally continued to work on production of those vehicles despite a required stop-work order that must go into effect once a protest is filed with the GAO.
the Army had ample time to compete for follow-on FMTV orders, and that the pool was deep with companies ready to provide vehicles that met the service’s requirements, but the Army never did.
The Army instead issued a series of justification and approvals, or J&A, to extend its original contract award, including a September 2016 J&A, which Navistar protested with the GAO. Navistar settled with the Army, which included a deal to build vehicles for Iraq.
To justify its orders in 2019, the Army amended the September 2016 J&A rather than issuing an entirely new one. Navistar claimed the move was not only against the Army’s previous practice but also against the rules of contract law.
The court disagreed with Navistar’s argument that the Army’s 2019 sole-source contracting action constituted a “cardinal change” to the original contract or its subsequent 2016 J&A, which extended the contract.
The judge decided the Army’s 2019 decision to procure an additional 1,916 vehicles did not “materially depart” from the scope of the original contract, which is one of the characteristics of a cardinal change.
Additionally, the judge did not find any evidence that the 2019 orders fell out of the scope of the contract as modified by the Army in the 2016 J&A.
The orders also fell within the terms of the contract, the judge found, which ended Aug. 25, 2019. The orders were placed between February and June of that year.
The court also argued that Navistar and potential other offerors that might have participated in an FMTV competition were “adequately” notified of the possibility that the Army would procure additional tactical vehicles during the term of the contract.
The judge found the 2016 J&A made clear the Army’s plan to extend and increase the value of the contract for the purpose of adding additional vehicles and made clear its reasoning not to hold a competition. The court argued that Navistar and others should have expected the possibility the Army would decide to increase the number of vehicles it might procure.
The court also noted that the Army issued an explanation again in June 2019 outlining its need to buy more vehicles to bridge a gap between the current version of the FMTV and a new variant, for which Navistar did not compete.
The judge wrote that additional vehicles were justified “because it’s well-established the Army’s estimate of its requirements is not a guarantee or warranty of the exact quantity required.”
Navistar failed to show that the 2016 J&A limited the number of vehicles the Army could procure, according to the decision.
The court also noted Navistar failed to show any statute or regulation that required the Army to issue a J&A every time it needed to add more vehicles beyond original estimates. The judge argued that even though it was the Army’s practice to do so when it ordered more vehicles, the absence of a complete J&A in 2019 was not against the rules.
The court also found the Army had proper approval from a senior procurement official to extend its contract beyond the 10-year limit in accordance with the law. Navistar had argued the Army improperly extended the term of the contract.
Additionally, the court argued that Navistar’s settlement agreement in 2016 — following the company’s GAO protest — precludes the vehicle maker from raising certain claims related to the FMTV contract because it waived its rights to appeal or protest any further orders under the contract.
“The court agrees with the government that Navistar may not pursue claims related to the decision to extend the contract in 2016 or a challenge of the terms of the FMTV contract as they related to foreign military sales,” the decision stated.
The judge also decided that since Navistar voluntarily withdrew its GAO protest and wasn’t successful in demonstrating the merits of its claims before the court, injunctive relief could not be provided.
Navistar’s legal counsel did not respond to requests for comment by press time. (Source: Defense News)
27 Jan 20. First T-72AMTs delivered to Ukrainian Armed Forces. The Ukrainian Armed Forces has received the first 15 upgraded T-72AMT main battle tanks (MBTs), the Ukrainian Logistics Command announced on its Facebook page on 24 January. The command said 10 additional T-72AMTs will be delivered by the end of January, with an additional six to follow in February, sufficient to equip a tank battalion.
The T-72AMT is based on a standard T-72, refurbished and upgraded by the Kyiv Armoured Plant, after which they are transferred by rail to the relevant military unit, the command added.
This is a continuation of the upgrade of T-64s and T-80s that began in 2017 by installing thermal sights and secure communications and returning them as part of the routine maintenance cycle.
The T-72AMT is a result of the more extensive upgrades that the Ukrainian industry has developed, and it includes additional Nozh (Knife) explosive reactive armour (ERA) fitted to the turret in an arrow-head pattern and further cassettes laid flat on the sides of the hull. Used by Ukrainian forces fighting in the Donbass region, Nozh is composed of multiple linear shaped charge arrays rather than a more conventional ERA configuration with explosive material sandwiched between two plates. The rear of the turret can also be fitted with bar armour.
An infographic from the Kyiv Armoured Plant shows that the vehicle is also fitted with the 1K13 dual channel sight, which enables the vehicle to fire a Kombat guided anti-tank missile with a range of 5 km and behind-ERA penetration of 750 mm, according to UkrOboronService.
The V-46 engine is upgraded to the V-84-1, increasing horsepower to 840 hp, compared with the previous 780 hp. The T-72AMT also has more secure radio suites provided by Aselsan, the tracks of a T-80 MBT, and a rear view camera for the driver. (Source: Jane’s)
27 Jan 20. Hyundai Rotem Favored to Land $9bn Tank Deal with Poland. Hyundai Rotem is planning to partner with the Polish government to develop and produce 800 K2 Black Panther class tanks. The monetary value of the possible deal was unknown. There are other prestigious tank developers such as the U.S. M1 Abrams, Russia’s T-90 and England’s Challenger 2 that could be secured but Poland’s fundamental principle is to develop homegrown weaponry which suggests Hyundai Rotem is a strong contender in the race.
“The official project bidding is expected to be announced in the first half of this year and we definitely will take part in the process. The total project is said to be divided into two stages to produce a total of 800 tanks,” a Hyundai Rotem official said.
Hyundai Rotem officials met with Polish officials several times to explain the specifics of the qualifications and functions of the K2 Black Panther. In 2008, the South Korean company won a bid to sell K2 tanks to the Turkish government beating Germany, one of the world’s leading tank manufacturers. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/The Korea Times; posted Jan. 27, 2020)
23 Jan 20. Malian forces unveil new vehicles and weapons. The Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) displayed recently delivered vehicles during their 59th anniversary parade at the Kati military camp, the main base of the 3rd Military Region, on 20 January. These included Streit Typhoon mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles and a Paramount Marauder with a previously unseen turret.
It was announced earlier in the month that the FAMa had received the first seven of an expected 130 Typhoons: its largest armoured vehicle procurement to date. Malian media coverage confirmed that another seven were delivered on 19 January. The parade revealed that these include the 6×6 variant.
The Marauder in the parade was fitted with a one-man turret armed with a 14.5mm heavy machine gun. This turret has previously been seen on a Mbombe 4 MRAP that Paramount displayed during the Africa Aerospace and Defence show in South Africa in 2016, but it is unclear if it is made by the company or provided by another manufacturer.
The FAMa’s acquisition of Marauders was revealed when three were seen during the 22 September 2019 Independence Day parade in Kati, but none of these were armed.
The Marauder has a combat weight of 17 tonnes, can accommodate up to 12 personnel including two crew, and offers STANAG Level 3 protection. Its hull can withstand a direct explosion of 8 kg of TNT, according to its manufacturer. Other sub-Saharan African operators include the Republic of Congo, Malawi, and Nigeria.
The latest parade included DongFeng EQ2050 Mengshi vehicles configured for reconnaissance and troop transport. This is the first time that the EQ2050, a Chinese version of the US Humvee, has been paraded by the FAMa, suggesting that the vehicles were delivered recently. (Source: Jane’s)
23 Jan 20. GDLS-UK expects Ajax IOC this year despite delivery delay. The UK’s Ajax armoured fighting vehicle family is progressing through its trials and is on schedule to reach its initial operational capability (IOC) in 2020, the executive programme director for Ajax at General Dynamics Land Systems-UK (GDLS-UK), Rebecca McGrane, told the International Armoured Vehicles 2020 (IAV 2020) conference on 22 January.
Despite the delay in deliveries of the turreted variant of the Ajax, confirmed by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) to Jane’s on 15 January, GDLS-UK maintains that what is important is that the IOC will be achieved this year. McGrane added that the Ajax variant and the Apollo repair and Atlas recovery variants will soon enter reliability growth trials.
She cited as one of the headline developments of 2019 the delivery and installation of the first training assets at Lyneham and Bovington, including the enhanced driver procedural trainer, desktop turret trainer, full motion driver simulator, and crew turret trainer.
McGrane said GDLS-UK expected the IOC to be achieved in 2020 because the company had reversed the 80% of a trainee’s time typically spent on live vehicle use and the 20% spent on off-platform methods such as simulators and computers.
She reported that the vehicle family gained live crew clearance in 2019, making it safe for MoD personnel to conduct live fire tests and train with the vehicle. Ajax has also completed 42 battlefield missions (BFM), the test scenarios laid down by the MoD for the vehicle to complete as part of its reliability growth trials. Six of those BFMs have been conducted by British Army personnel, one of the final steps before entry into service trials, she said. (Source: Jane’s)
23 Jan 20. Industry warned US Army officials it could not meet OMFV requirements, concerns went unanswered. US Army officials are picking up the metaphorical pieces of their derailed Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) prototyping competition and charting a new path forward. However, despite multiple attempts by industry to question the army’s OMFV requirements and aggressive timeline, top army personnel said they were caught off guard by companies’ inability to deliver on what they promised.
“It was a very risky timeline. We knew that going in,” US Army Chief of Staff General James McConville told an audience during a 21 January Association of the US Army (AUSA) breakfast. “The feedback we got [from industry] was that they could do it.”
Although the four-star general is not involved in the day-to-day acquisition process, other service leaders have also pinned part of the blame on industry overpromising and underdelivering.
Bruce Jette, the army’s assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics, and technology (ASA[ALT]), for example, told reporters on 16 January that the service held approximately 11 OMFV industry days and solicited industry feedback during the draft request for proposal (RFP) phase. Despite this attempt, he conceded that the army’s final requirements “still could not align with what industry thought” and companies simply were not able to deliver what they said they could.
What is critical to note is that industry’s assertation that it could meet the army’s OMFV desires occurred before the service released its final requirements.
During a 23 January interview with Jane’s, Brigadier General Ross Coffman, the director of the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle modernisation, and Major General Brian Cummings, the programme executive officer for ground combat vehicles, discussed what has transpired over the past year. Before the final RFP was released, “The companies that responded said, ‘Look, the requirements are tough, the timeline is tough, but they’re doable,'” Brig Gen Coffman explained. (Source: Jane’s)
23 Jan 20. Bradley Replacement: Did Army Ask For ‘Unobtainium’?General Dynamics’ cancelled OMFV prototype could only meet the requirement for armor protection by growing too heavy to meet the requirement for air transport, sources say. So which will the Army give up? For the third time in 11 years, the Army’s attempt to replace the 1980s-vintage M2 Bradley ran afoul of the age-old tradeoff between armor and mobility, several knowledgeable sources tell Breaking Defense.
The General Dynamics prototype for the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle – the only competitor left after other companies bowed out or were disqualified – was too heavy to meet the Army’s requirement that a single Air Force C-17 cargo jet could carry two complete OMFVs to a war zone, we’re told. But the vehicle had to be that heavy, GD’s defenders say, to meet the Army’s requirement for armor protection.
Now, the Army hasn’t officially said why it cancelled the current OMFV contract. Senior leaders – Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville; the four-star chief of Army Futures Command, Gen. Mike Murray; and the civilian Army Acquisition Executive, Assistant Secretary Bruce Jette – have all publicly acknowledged that the requirements and timeline were “aggressive.” (Yes, all three men used the same word). Jette was the most specific, telling reporters that one vendor – which, from the context of his remark, could only be GD – did not meet all the requirements, but he wouldn’t say which requirements weren’t met.
So, while we generally avoid writing a story based solely on anonymous sources, in this case we decided their track records (which we can’t tell you about) were so good and the subject was so important that it was worth going ahead.
“Industry told the Army the schedule was ‘unobtainium,’ but they elected to proceed anyway,” one source told us: That’s why the other potential competitors dropped out, seeing the requirements as too hard to meet. In particular, the source said, “industry needs more time to evaluate the trade [offs] associated with achieving the weight requirement.”
With more time, industry might have been able to refine the design further to reduce weight, redesign major components to be lighter, or possibly – and this one is a stretch – even invent new stronger, lighter materials. But on the schedule the Army demanded, another source told us, reaching the minimum allowable protection without exceeding the maximum allowable weight was physically impossible.
Why This Keeps Happening
The Army’s been down this road before and stalled out in similar ways. The Ground Combat Vehicle was too heavy, the Future Combat Systems vehicles were too light; “just right” still seems elusive.
In 2009, Defense Secretary Bob Gates cancelled the Future Combat Systems program, whose BAE-designed Manned Ground Vehicles – including a Bradley replacement – had been designed to such strict weight limits that they lacked adequate armor. The Army had initially asked for the FCS vehicles to come in under 20 tons so one could fit aboard an Air Force C-130 turboprop transport. After that figure proved unfeasible, and the Air Force pointed out a C-130 couldn’t actually carry 20 tons any tactically useful distance, the weight crept up to 26 tons, but the added armor wasn’t enough to satisfy Gates’ concerns about roadside bombs, then taking a devastating toll on US soldiers in Iraq.
Four years later, amidst tightening budgets, the Army itself gave up on the Ground Combat Vehicle, another Bradley replacement, after strict requirements for armor protection drove both competing designs – from General Dynamics and BAE Systems – into the 56-70 ton range, depending on the level of modular add-on armor bolted onto the basic chassis. (A much-publicized Governmental Accountability Office study claimed GCV could reach 84 tons, but that was a projection for future growth, not an actual design).
Not quite nine months ago, after getting initial feedback from industry on the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, the Army made the tough call to reduce its protection requirements somewhat to make it possible to fit two OMFVs on a C-17. If our sources are correct, however, it didn’t reduce the armor requirement enough for General Dynamics to achieve the weight goal.
One source says that two of the General Dynamics vehicles would fit on a C-17 if you removed its modular armor. The add-on armor kit could then be shipped to the war zone on a separate flight and installed, or simply left off if intelligence was sure the enemy lacked heavy weapons. But the requirements didn’t allow for that compromise, and the Army wasn’t willing to waive them, the source said, because officers feared a vehicle in the less-armored configuration could get troops killed.
Now, there are ways to protect a vehicle besides heavy passive armor. Some IEDs in Iraq were big enough to cripple a 70-ton M1 Abrams. Russian tanks get by with much lighter passive armor covered by a layer of so-called reactive armor, which explodes outwards when hit, blasting incoming warheads before they can penetrate. Both Russia and Israel have fielded, and the US Army is urgently acquiring, Active Protection Systems that shoot down incoming projectiles.
The problem with both reactive armor and active protection is that they’re only proven effective against explosive warheads, like those found on anti-tank missiles. They’re much less useful against solid shells, and while no missile ever fielded can use those, a tank’s main gun can fling solid shot with such force that it penetrates armor through sheer concentrated kinetic energy.
(Protecting against roadside bombs and land mines is yet another design issue, because they explode from underneath, but it’s no longer the all-consuming question it once ways. Advances in suspension, blast-deflecting hull shapes, and shock absorption for the crew have made even the four-wheeled Joint Light Tactical Vehicle remarkably IED-resistant and pretty comfortable).
If the Army were willing to take the risk of relying more on active protection systems, or give industry more time to improve active protection technology, it could reduce its requirements for heavy passive armor. Or the Army could remove the soldiers from its combat vehicles entirely and operate them with a mix of automation and remote control, which would make crew protection a moot point. In fact, the service is investing in lightly-armored and relatively expendable Robotic Combat Vehicles – but it still sees those unmanned machines as adjuncts to humans, not replacements. As long as the Army puts soldiers on the battlefield, it will want the vehicles that carry them to be well-protected.
Alternatively, the Army could drop its air transport requirements and accept a much heavier vehicle. Israel has already done this with its Namer troop carrier, a modified Merkava heavy tank, but then the Israel army doesn’t plan to fight anywhere far away. The US, by contrast, routinely intervenes overseas and has dismantled many of its Cold War bases around the world. Air transport is a limited commodity anyway, and war plans assume most heavy equipment will either arrive by sea or be pre-positioned in warehouses on allied territory. But the Army really wants to have the option to send at least some armored vehicles by air in a crisis.
If the Army won’t give ground on either protection or transportability, then it faces a different dilemma: They need to either give industry more time to invent something revolutionary, or accept a merely evolutionary improvement.
“We’re going to reset the requirements, we’re going to reset the acquisition strategy and timeline,” Gen. McConville said about OMFV on Tuesday. But, when he discussed Army modernization overall, he repeatedly emphasized that “we need transformational change, not incremental improvements.
“Transformational change is how we get overmatch and how we get dominance in the future,” the Chief of Staff said. “We aren’t looking for longer cords for our phones or faster horses for our cavalry.” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
About Oshkosh Defense
Oshkosh Defense is a leading provider of tactical wheeled vehicles and life cycle sustainment services. For decades Oshkosh has been mobilizing military and security forces around the globe by offering a full portfolio of heavy, medium, light and highly protected military vehicles to support our customers’ missions. In addition, Oshkosh offers advanced technologies and vehicle components such as TAK-4® independent suspension systems, TerraMax™ unmanned ground vehicle solutions, Command Zone™ integrated control and diagnostics system, and ProPulse® diesel electric and on-board vehicle power solutions, to provide our customers with a technical edge as they fulfill their missions. Every Oshkosh vehicle is backed by a team of defense industry experts and complete range of sustainment and training services to optimize fleet readiness and performance. Oshkosh Defense, LLC is an Oshkosh Corporation company [NYSE: OSK].
To learn more about Oshkosh Defense, please visit us at www.oshkoshdefense.com.