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MILITARY VEHICLE NEWS

30 Jul 20. New heavy-duty trucks in service with PLA’s Tibet Military District. The Tibet Military District of China’s People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) has received new 8 × 8 heavy-duty military trucks manufactured by the Shaanxi Automobile Group, according to video footage shown in a 28 July report by the state-owned China Central Television 7 (CCTV 7) channel.

The footage shows several of the new trucks, the designation of which was not disclosed, taking part in a number of driving drills, including one simulating an engagement by enemy personnel, at the Qinghai-Tibet Military Station of the Tibet Military District.

According to Chinese news sources, Shaanxi won the bid for a third-generation heavy-duty truck procurement programme in 2017. It is understood that the truck was required to be built entirely using locally made components, as opposed to using parts made by foreign companies that have predominated in previous generations of PLAGF trucks.

The vehicle was reportedly also required to have independent suspension and an automatic transmission “as well as a modular design, allowing the base chassis to be used for a number of roles. From the available footage it appears that the trucks are built around a semi-rigid chassis with a forward control cab and a mid-body engine.

The truck has a large load tray at the rear of the chassis that extends from the rear of the second axle to the end of the chassis. The vehicles in the video were shown in a basic troop or cargo-carrying configuration. (Source: Jane’s)

30 Jul 20. Hungary gets first batch of German Leopard-2 tanks. The Hungarian army has taken delivery of four used Leopard-2 tanks to begin training on the weapons as manufacturer Kraus-Maffei Wegmann works on the country’s order of 44 new tanks. The Hungarian government ordered the equipment in late 2018 as part of an effort to replace its Soviet-era arms. The Leopard 2 tanks in their newest configuration, dubbed 2A7+, are slated to replace Russian-made T-72s. A total of 12 older Leopards of the 2A4 variant were part of the deal to ensure Hungarian soldiers can train ahead of the new deliveries, slated for 2023.

“Hungary is modernizing its land forces with Germany as a strategic partner,” German State Secretary of Defense Thomas Silberhorn was quoted as saying in a defense ministry statement. The acquisition would ensure interoperability among Hungarian and German forces and strengthen the defense capabilities of the European Union and NATO alike, he added.

Defense Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer recently visited Hungary, led by far-right Prime Minister Victor Orban, and lauded the two countries’ defense cooperation. Her ministry later made mention of the government’s increasing authoritarian bent only by saying that challenges in dealing with the country were “rather sociopolitical” in nature.

Recent weapons contracts with Hungary, with also include howitzers and other heavy gear, are reportedly valued at around $2bn, making the country Germany’s largest arms customer for the time.

The government’s anti-democratic moves – threats to a free press and an independent judiciary, for example – have put Budapest on a collision course with the European Union, though the pact has yet to meaningfully hold its member to account. (Source: Defense News)

30 Jul 20. British Army’s AS90 howitzers to stick around amid replacement delay. The program to replace the British Army’s aging AS90 self-propelled artillery has hit at least a two-year delay, with the forthcoming howitzer not expected to reach initial operating capability until the first quarter of 2029.

The decision to defer the Mobile Fires Program was taken to allow the Ministry of Defence to address key technical risks and meet requirements in the government’s integrated defense, security and foreign policy review expected around the end of the year, according to sources with knowledge of the program.

Britain’s new heavy artillery had been due to gain initial operating capability in the fourth quarter of 2026, but the MoD confirmed that has now been put back to the first quarter of 2029.

The howitzer procurement delay means the current date for decommissioning the AS90s has also gone back two years. A portion of the howitzer force will now remain operational until 2032.

Revised timelines for a new procurement process are currently under development by the MoD.

An initial request for information was sent to industry in April 2019. The MoD issued revised key user requirements in January 2020 with a deadline for industry responses set for Feb. 17.

Britain’s BAE Systems, South Korea’s Hanwa Defense, Israel’s Soltham Systems, France’s Nexter and Germany’s Rheinmetall are among the companies that expressed interest in the program, an industry executive told Defense News on condition of anonymity.

Late last year, the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London blasted the British military for its lack of artillery firepower compared with a country like Russia.

“The UK’s ground forces are comprehensively outgunned and outranged , leaving enemy artillery free to prosecute fire missions with impunity”, RUSI analyst Jack Watling wrote in a report. “If conventional deterrence is to remain a key component of the UK’s national security strategy, then the modernisation of its fires capabilities should be a top priority.”

The integrated review, run by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his advisers, is expected to be announced this year. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in a July 26 op-ed in the Sunday Telegraph that the review would pivot the military away from conventional arms and toward space, cyber and sub-sea capabilities.

As the MoD shuffles resources to fund the change in focus, land forces are expected by some to be a target for cuts. (Source: Defense News)

30 Jul 20. Warrior CSP Successfully Completes Phase One of Reliability Growth Tests. The joint WCSP team at Lockheed Martin UK, British Army and Armoured Trials and Development Unit successfully complete significant milestone of 59 Battlefield Missions – bringing the programme to the end of the first phase of trials.

The Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP) completed a significant programme milestone last week as Lockheed Martin UK jointly with British Army and Armoured Trials and Development Unit crew completed 59 Battlefield Missions (BFMs), bringing the development programme successfully through the first half of reliability growth tests.

BFMs are a key element of the enduring Reliability Growth Tests, which are made up of a combination of Qualification and Verification activities and representative BFMs. By the time the development programme comes to a conclusion, the vehicles will have travelled the equivalent distance of a return journey from the North to the South Pole.

WCSP trials, which started in 2019, are now at a significant point in the development programme. There have been a number of successful first-time events that have demonstrated the game-changing enhancements made to the platform. Once in-service, the updated and modernised platform will provide the British Army with the Armoured Fighting Capability it needs and it will serve for several decades to come.

Keren Wilkins, Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme Director at Lockheed Martin said: “This is a tremendous achievement – the programme is at an exciting and equally critical point. With half of the trials successfully behind us, we’re now preparing for the second and final phase of Reliability Growth Tests. The Programme has turned a real corner, it continues to run to schedule and has demonstrated a number of successful first-time events. Despite some of the challenges presented by COVID-19, the joint team has pulled out all the stops to complete this significant milestone. The trust, transparency and partnership across the team truly underpins the progress that is being made on the programme.”

Col Howard Pritchard, Assistant Head Combat Programmes Deliver for the British Army, said: “I am delighted to see that Warrior CSP remains on target to successfully reach its reliability growth targets. Achieving the 59th BFM against the backdrop of COVID-19 social distancing measures and Government guidelines has been a challenge for all but overcome through excellent team work and collaboration between the Army, DE&S and Lockheed Martin joint team.”

WCSP addresses key capability gaps faced by the legacy vehicle. Once in-service, the significantly enhanced capability will change the way the British Army operates, enabling soldiers to carry out tasks in an even safer, and more modern environment. The key upgrade being delivered by Lockheed Martin is the ability to fire-on-the-move with the new CT40 stabilised cannon. The new digital turret will not only upgrade the lethality of the platform, but the enhanced situational awareness will provide soldiers with a far greater understanding of the battlespace.

Marcus Bruton, WCSP Team Leader for Defence, Equipment and Support, said: “Reaching the 59th BFM on the Warrior CSP reliability trials is a significant achievement and testament to the great collaborative working between DE&S, the Armoured Trial and Development Unit and Lockheed Martin.”

The updated platform will provide a future proof UK sovereign Armoured Fighting Capability which supports 900 skilled jobs across the UK supply chain, many of which are small-medium sized British businesses. A WCSP production contract will protect these jobs and lead to the creation of even more UK jobs to produce and sustain the capability.

27 Jul 20. NZDF trialling electric motorbikes. The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) announced on 27 July that it has begun trialling electric utility motorbikes to determine their suitability for military use.

The force said in a statement that, as it explores “greener” means of transport, it is testing four specially built bikes from Tauranga-based company Ubco for their suitability in areas such as reconnaissance and surveillance, and airfield security, among others.

“The 65 kg bikes are much lighter than normal military motorcycles, have an electric motor in each wheel, and with regenerative braking can travel up to 120 km on a single charge,” said the force, adding that the 12-month trial package includes a camouflage colour scheme, extra battery packs, a trailer and a range of spare parts.

The army, navy and air force will each trial the bikes, which in general use are aimed at farmers, hunters, the emergency services, and others. (Source: Jane’s)

27 Jul 20. Uzbekistan Develops TARLON 44. The State Committee of Uzbekistan’s defence industry has announced that national company Kran-Maxsus texnika has developed a prototype of a domestic armoured vehicle which has great similarities with the EJDER YALCIN 4×4. Nurol Makina, one of the leading manufacturers of armored land vehicles for the Turkish defence industry, had signed a letter of intent with the Uzbek company UzAuto in Uzbekistan at the end of October 2017 for the joint production of 1000 EJDER YALCIN 4×4 Tactical Wheeled Armored Vehicles. The agreement between Nurol Makina and UzAuto included the production of 1000 units of the EJDER YALCIN at UzAuto’s plants in Uzbekistan in co-production of which the first 24 EJDER YALCIN should come from the NUROL MAKINA plant and the remaining vehicles from the 1000 unit package should be produced at UzAuto’s plants in Uzbekistan with a co-production model. The new vehicle is called the “TARLON 44” and will have a maximum capacity of 9 personnel, a 285 hp diesel engine, a range of 700+ kilometres and NATO STANAG Level 3+ armour protection.

Original design

The EJDER YALCIN 4×4, due to its high payload carrying capacity and original vehicle control software, can be configured in different ways to suit different applications. The EJDER YALCIN 4×4 offers specific solutions for different user requirements such as:

  • Border Surveillance and Security
  • Reconnaissance
  • Command & Control
  • Tactical Missile Transport
  • KBRN Reconnaissance
  • Mine/EYP Detection
  • Armoured Ambulance.

(Source: ESD Spotlight)

28 Jul 20. LEOPARD 2 A4HU Arrives in Hungary. On 24th July 2020, the 25th Infantry Brigade (MH 25. Klapka György Lövészdandár) in Tata (75 west of Budapest) received the first four of twelve LEOPARD 2 A4HU Main Battle Tanks (MBTs). The ceremonial handover was attended by Hungarian Defence Minister, Tibor Benkö, Commander-in-Chief of the Hungarian Armed Forces, Ferenc Korom, and the CEO of tank manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, Frank Haun.

The LEOPARD 2s are adapted to Hungarian requirements and have Hungarian national insignia. Benkö described the handover of the MBTs as the beginning of a new era in the history of the Hungarian Armed Forces, which are currently being modernised in an extensive development programme. The programme also includes H145M helicopters with the HForce weapon system, of which the eighth and ninth of the 20 light helicopters ordered were taken over on 22th July 2020.

The T72 MBTs, which are to be replaced by LEOPARD 2s from 2023, also featured in the parade lineup. Benkö used the ceremonial handover of the new tanks to bid farewell to the outdated technology that had been in service with the Hungarian Army for 40 years.  At the end of the event, the T72s demonstrated their capabilities; potentially for the last time in front of an audience. (Source: ESD Spotlight)

28 Jul 20. Uzbekistan begins upgrading its T-64 MBTs. The Uzbek army has begun upgrading its fleet of T-64 main battle tanks (MBTs) to the T-64MV standard following a series of successful user trials, the State Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan for the Defense Industry said in a 23 July statement.

The upgrade includes the replacement of the MBT’s standard five-cylinder 700 hp 5TDF diesel engine with the 840hp V-84 engine, which is used by the T-72 family of MBTs.

The change in engine brings the mobility of the T-64MV to the same level as that of the T-72 and enables it to operate in “all natural climatic conditions”, said the committee. These improvements have been achieved despite the addition of explosive reactive armour (ERA) to the turret and glacis, as well as an array of statistical protection to the sides of the hull. The upgrade also includes the installation of a digital radio system. (Source: Jane’s)

28 Jul 20. British Army receives first six Ares armoured vehicles.

The British Army has taken delivery of the first six Ares armoured vehicles from General Dynamics at the Household Cavalry Regiment located at Bulford in Wiltshire, UK. Along with other variants in the Ajax family of armoured vehicles, the vehicle will replace the Army’s Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) (CVR(T)) vehicles. General Dynamics is building the Ares, part of Ajax family of armoured vehicles, in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. Construction of the Ajax family of armoured vehicles will bring new job opportunities to the region, boosting the local economy.

Once in service, the vehicles will strengthen the Royal Army’s armoured infantry and strike brigades using advanced technology and enhanced crew protection. The Ajax family comprises troop-carrying reconnaissance vehicle Ares armed with a 40mm cannon. The programme includes Ajax, Ares, Apollo, Athena, Atlas and Argus variants.

Ajax Programme director Colonel Justin Kingsford said: “This is an exciting moment for the army. The delivery of Ares this week is an important step on our journey to give the Army an amazing state of the art, world-beating armoured fighting vehicle.

“Ajax will allow us to manage battlespace information faster from a modern digitised platform, with increased lethality through the new 40mm cannon.

“Better mobility, alongside enhanced protection levels and increased reliability underline the transformational nature of the capability. A comprehensive simulated training suite supports this fleet and ensures we invest fully in our crews to get the very best of this capability.”

Serving the army for the past 50 years, CVR(T) vehicles have conducted battlefield operations in the Falklands and in the deserts of the Middle East. (Source: army-technology.com)

28 Jul 20. TORSUS, manufacturer of the world’s toughest, heavy-duty off-road buses is set to cause a stir in the commercial vehicle sector with TERRASTORM, a 4×4 off-road minibus. Available to order now, starting from €57,461 (£52,290.95), the first TERRASTORM deliveries will commence in Q3 2020 in both left-hand and right-hand drive.

The 4×4 TORSUS TERRASTORM, based on a Volkswagen Crafter/MAN TGE 4Motion chassis, features a EURO VI D 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel engine offered in two power guises, 140PS (103kW) and 340Nm or 176PS (130kW) and 410Nm, mated to a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Engineered and manufactured at TORSUS’ production plant in Slovakia, the heart of vehicle manufacturing in Central Europe, the team applied its expert knowledge gained from producing the PRAETORIAN, the world’s first production off-road bus, to design a new ultra-tough 4×4 minibus. Designed to transport people and cargo to some of the world’s most inhospitable places, the TERRASTORM is dependable and pushes the commercial vehicle sector to new limits.

Testing to TORSUS Tough

Ensuring the dependability of a TORSUS product means putting the product through its paces in testing. TERRASTORM has undergone a rigorous test program at multiple test facilities in and around Czech Republic and Slovakia including the iconic Tatra testing ground. This ensures the vehicle can withstand and handle beyond normal off-road usage whilst remaining usable and comfortable on road. TERRASTORM is engineered rugged and is tested to TORSUS tough.

Vakhtang Dzhukashvili, founder and CEO of TORSUS, said: “At TORSUS, we believe that strong, rugged, commercial vehicles aren’t only for working hours but can be used for fun as well. The TERRASTORM aims to break that tradition as we set new standards in this market. We have taken what we know from PRAETORIAN and translated it to a smaller overall footprint, but the dependability and toughness remain. By working with customers and listening to feedback and hearing their problems, we find solutions to create the ultimate off-road minibus.

“TERRASTORM is a vehicle that will be at home on the dunes of the Sahara to delivering packages and emergency care work in the mountainous regions. The vehicle is versatile in its configurations, it is always able to offer more capability to serve multiple markets and industries.”

Design

TERRASTORM is designed to be valuable for those wanting a vehicle that can do the heavy lifting at work but is also great for the weekends with the family. Specific body trim is crafted to not only protect the lower panels of the vehicle but create solutions to problems – such as an integrated winch and a custom-built skid plate.

The vehicle is offered in two trim levels – TT1 Coach and TT2 Nomad, both of which include an upgraded chassis and off-road suspension, all-wheel drive with a locking rear differential, integrated winch in the TORSUS front bumper capable of towing up to 5,500kg (5.5 tonnes), side steps, durable scratch resistant coating on the lower body panels, and a bespoke Duraluminium skid plate running from the engine and gearbox down to the rear differential and fuel tank to protect from being damaged in inhospitable conditions. TT2 Nomad adds a front metal bull-bar and rear light metal grilles, roof rack with integrated lights, spare tyre rack and rear ladder.

The TORSUS bumper was designed to offer improved off-road capabilities with better approach angles. It hosts the LED high beam, daytime running lights, fog lights and spotlights as well as the integrated winch, which is hidden away only to be dispatched when you really need it. As part of the underside protection, the custom 5mm Duraluminium skid plate protects the engine, radiator, transmission, rear axle, DPF filter, as well as the fuel and AdBlue tanks from any costly damage when off-road.

Off-road suspension has been upgraded to ensure optimum on and off-road capability. Up front, MacPherson struts and Bilstein B6 shock absorbers offer optimum comfort. With the increased ride height, Ironman 4×4 Adjustable Camber bolts are fitted to offer ± 1.75 degrees camber adjustment.

At the rear, the suspension is a combination of leaf springs equipped with Ironman 4×4 Load Plus and optional Profender Dakar shock absorbers with remote auxiliary reservoirs extended axle stroke. The combination of uprated off-road suspension and heavy-duty 17-inch BF Goodrich All Terrain T/A KO2 tyres gives the TERRASTORM a ground clearance of 290mm, approach and departure angles of 26 degrees and 20 degrees, and a wading depth of 690mm. Potential buyers have the option to select the ‘Deep Wave’ pack allowing the TERRASTORM to wade through up to 820mm of water.

Interior

Inside, the TERRASTORM can accommodate from nine to 20 passengers in high-comfort seats, depending on the variant of minibus, upholstered in fabric and eco leather fitted with three-point seatbelts. Each passenger seat is built on a strong chassis and skeleton consisting of 2-4mm of sheet metal. The driver cockpit includes a new touchscreen control panel above the infotainment system to control all interior heating, lighting, air conditioning and speaker system from the single unit, as well as offering the driver a status overview of all equipment.

For more extreme configurations, TORSUS has created ‘extra active’ seats with 5-point harnesses. Unlike most minibuses, the internal seating configuration on the TERRASTORM can be altered to ‘swivel seats’ with multifunction tables all on the TORSUS seat rail system. This means the rows of seats can be positioned opposite each other making use of the multifunction tables and a customer can easily install modular components to convert a bus into a personal camper.

Above the seats is the innovative TORSUS Air Channel; a top-class luggage rack offering each occupant individual lighting, air conditioning vents and speakers. The passenger cabin is lined with 30mm thermal insulation and the anti-slip floor is 18mm high-density water-resistant board with 2mm PVC floor coverings to ensure it is easy to clean and can withstand the inhospitable environments.

Peter Zaiček, Head of Production, TORSUS, “When producing the TERRASTORM, we continuously monitor and assess the minibus to create the best product we can; leading to multiple iterations of moulds until we have the perfect one that not only aligns with our design language but is safe, rugged and dependable.”

MEDIVAC & CARGO

The TERRASTORM can be configured in a number of ways to benefit industries from tourism, overland, mining, ambulance services, cargo and special agencies. The MEDIVAC TERRASTORM is the ideal representation of an off-road ambulance as either a patient transportation vehicle or a mobile intensive care unit. The TORSUS team build the MEDIVAC according to EU or local regulations with the correct Battenburg markings as well as LED beacons on the roof, bumpers and mirrors, as well as a siren and external loudspeaker.

Inside, the vehicle is equipped with the necessary noise insulation, floor coverings, ceiling and wall panels as well as the electrical systems and an oxygen supply system. The MEDIVAC can be supplied with stretchers, electrical suction units, defibrillators, syringe pumps and electrocardiograph machines to whatever specification is needed.

When delivering parcels or important cargo to remote areas, passenger seats aren’t always needed. The CARGO version is a versatile vehicle that can be commissioned by infrastructure maintenance providers and kitted out to suit those needs or simply a base for a customer with a dream for an ultimate off-road minibus.

Comprehensive sales and service support

TERRASTORM will be sold through TORSUS’ growing international dealer network, a number of best value ownership options and is supported by Volkswagen and MAN service centres, ensuring no matter where the TERRASTORM goes, there will be a service centre nearby. Each vehicle comes with a two-year global drivetrain warranty and full aftersales support which can be increased up to five year or 500,000km in selected markets.

TORSUS is currently represented and distributes to three continents (Europe, Australia and South America) selling in six markets (Germany, Poland, Australia, Chile, Peru and Ukraine) with negotiations to expand the reach into more territories, including UK, UAE, Argentina, France, Canada, Philippines, Kazakhstan, the US and Saudi Arabia.

27 Jul 20. Two Men & A Bot: Can AI Help Command A Tank? Instead of a traditional three-man crew, Brig. Gen. Coffman told Breaking Defense, “you have two humans with a virtual crew member, [sharing] the functions of gunning, driving, and commanding.”

Field tests and computer models have convinced the Army that future armored vehicles can fight with just two human crew, assisted by automation, instead of the traditional three or more, the service’s armor modernization chief told me.

That confidence drove the Army, in its draft Request For Proposals released on the 17th, to require a two-soldier crew for its future Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle. The OMFV is scheduled to enter service in 2028 to replace the Reagan-era M2 Bradley, which has the traditional trio of commander, gunner, and driver. (Both vehicles can also carry infantry as passengers, and the Army envisions the OMFV being operated by remote control in some situations).

The Army has already field-tested Bradleys modified to operate with a two-soldier crew instead of the usual three, said Brig. Gen. Richard Ross Coffman, the director of Army Futures Command’s Cross Functional Team for Next Generation Combat Vehicles. “As we speak,” he told me in an interview last week, “we’ve got those Mission-Enabling Technology Demonstrators, or MET-D, actually maneuvering at Fort Carson, Colorado, as part of the Robotic Combat Vehicle test.”

With the benefit of modern automation, Coffman said, those two-soldier crews have proven able to maneuver around obstacles, look out for threats, and engage targets — without being overwhelmed by too many simultaneous demands. “They’re doing that both in simulation and real world at Carson right now,” Coffman told me.

“You have two humans with a virtual crewmember that will remove cognitive load from the humans and allow the functions of gunning, and driving, and commanding the vehicle to be shared between humans and machines,” Coffman said. “We think that the technology has matured to the point where …this third virtual crewmember will provide the situational awareness to allow our soldiers to fight effectively.”

The defense contractors who would have to build the vehicle – even if a government team designs it – aren’t so sure. “A two-man crew will be overwhelmed with decision making, no matter how much AI is added,” one industry source told me.

A Persistent Dilemma

For at least eight decades, combat vehicle designers have faced a dilemma. A smaller crew allows a smaller vehicle, one that’s cheaper, lighter, and harder to hit – and if it is hit, puts fewer lives at risk. But battlefield experience since 1940 has shown that smaller crews are easily overwhelmed by the chaos of combat. Historically, an effective fighting vehicle required a driver solely focused on the path ahead, a gunner solely focused on hitting the current target, and a commander looking in all directions for the next target to attack, threat to avoid, or path to take. (Many vehicles added a dedicated ammunition handler and/or radio operator as well).

A “virtual crewmember” could solve this dilemma — but will the technology truly be ready by the late 2020s?

The Army actually tackled this question just last year and came to the opposite conclusion. You see, the draft Request For Proposals released last week is the Army’s second attempt to launch the OMFV program. In March 2019, the Army issued its original RFP for an Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle. In most respects, the 2019 RFP was much more demanding than last week’s draft: It wanted the vehicle in service two years earlier, in 2026 instead of 2028, and it had such stringent requirements for weight and amor protection that no company managed to meet them, leading the Army to start over. But for all its ambition in other aspects, the 2019 RFP did not mandate a two-person crew; that’s a new addition for the 2020 version.

It’s worth noting that just one company managed to deliver a prototype by the Army’s original deadline in 2019: General Dynamics. They built their vehicle to operate with a crew of three – but with the option to go down to two as automation improved.

At the same time, the Army started experimenting with Robotic Combat Vehicles that had no human crew aboard at all. The long-term goal is to have a single soldier oversee a whole wolfpack of RCVs, but the current proto-prototypes are operated by remote control, with a crew of two: a gunner/sensor operator and a driver. The Army has been impressed by how well these teleoperated RCVs have performed in field trials. If two soldiers can effectively operate a vehicle they’re not even in, might two be enough to operate a manned vehicle as well?

The other piece of the experimental RCV unit is the mothership, an M2 Bradley with its passenger cabin converted to hold the teleoperators and their workstations. These modified M2s, called MET-Ds, also operate with just two crewmembers, a gunner and a driver – without a separate commander – and, says Coffman, they’ve done so successfully in combat scenarios.

The Army is not just adding automation to individual vehicles. It’s seeking to create combined units of manned and unmanned war machines that share data on threats and targets over a battlefield network, allowing them to work together as a seamless tactical unit that’s far more than the sum of its parts. “This [vehicle] will not fight alone, but as part of a platoon, a company, a battalion,” Coffman said. “The shared situational awareness across that formation will transform the way we fight.”

These ongoing experiments are the latest in a long series.  “As far back as 1991, the Army was looking at reducing the number of crew members,” Coffman told me. “Back then, when I was just coming in the Army, the tech had not matured to the point that it would allow a two-person crew.”

But that was then, Coffman said. Three decades later, with the rise of the iPhone, Google Maps, and a booming business in artificial intelligence, the times and the technology have changed.

“Since then, our 360-degree situational awareness has vastly improved,” Coffman said. Instead of peering through periscopes, gunsights, and slit-like bulletproof windows – or just sticking their head out the hatch and hoping there’re no snipers around – crews can look at wide-screen displays fed by multiple cameras and other sensors mounted all around their vehicle. Automated target recognition systems can analyze the sensor feeds in real time, identify potential threats and targets, alert the crew to their presence, and even automatically bring the main gun to bear. (The Army still requires a human decision to fire). Waypoint navigation algorithms, obstacle sensors, and automated collision avoidance routines can ease the task of maneuvering 40-plus-tons of metal around the battlefield.

Could all this technology unburden the human crew, allowing just two soldiers to operate a combat vehicle, instead of needing one solely focused on driving, a second solely focused on shooting, and a third giving direction to the other two? The Army now thinks so.

That said, the newly released Request for Proposal is a draft, being circulated specifically to get feedback on what’s feasible. If too many companies say the two-person crew won’t work, the Army can still change that requirement before the final RFP comes out next April.

“I think they are learning, through their experimentation, that it’s a high-risk requirement,” one industry source told me. “However, I think it’s like anything else involving technology: Given time — and money — it’s achievable.” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)

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