Within five years, the Army would like to start testing remote
combat vehicle prototypes, known as RCVs, which are unmanned, as
light and as fast as a Stryker, but provide the same level of
firepower as an M-1 Abrams tank, said Maj. Alan L. Stephens.
Stephens, an Acquisition Corps officer at the Mounted Requirements
Division of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, spoke at
the Future Ground Combat Vehicles Summit in Livonia, Michigan on
November 30, 2017.
While the holy grail is the Next
Generation Combat Vehicle, he said the Army thinks it can more
quickly field a limited number of RCVs, and importantly, the results
of that testing could help inform the requirements for the NGCV,
which is slated for fielding in 2035.
August 22, 2017 - A Maneuver Robotics and Autonomous Systems
Live Fire Demonstration takes place at the Digital Multi-Purpose
Range Complex at Fort Benning, Georgia. The Army wants to design a
Remote Combat Vehicle like this one, but much more lethal and
maneuverable. (U.S. Army photo by Patrick A. Albright)
Instead of a traditional program of record, Stephens said
the plan is to buy a limited quantity of RCVs or components
that could be used for RCVs, then let Soldiers put them
through their grueling paces at the combat training centers
and various test sites and proving grounds.
analysis that result from that and Soldier feedback would
then be used to inform requirements for the RCV and later on
for the NGCV, he said.
A capability development
document for the RCV could be written as soon as 2022, he
RCVs will have a number of advantages over the Abrams,
said Stephens, who has a background as a systems engineer.
For one, the RCV will be unmanned. That means in a
manned-unmanned configuration, the unmanned variants could
go ahead of the manned to scout out the area, navigate
through the most dangerous sectors of the battlefield and
engage the enemy, while the manned vehicle would follow, he
The current thinking for test configuration, he
said, is two unmanned for every manned RCV, with the manned
variant controlling the other two. But that ratio of 1:2
could change once testing commences and bugs are worked out.
Eventually, he said, a 1:4 ratio could be likely.
Additionally, he said, the term "unmanned" implies varying
levels of autonomy. At the lowest level, for instance, a
vehicle might have no personnel inside, but would be
controlled by Soldiers through a tethered radio link. At the
highest level, a vehicle might be fully autonomous,
requiring artificial intelligence and neural networking --
something not yet achievable, but clearly on the horizon.
Another advantage with RCV over Abrams is that it will
be lighter and more maneuverable. That means, Stephens said,
that it will be faster and could be airlifted, giving the
brigade combat team commander and the combatant commander
greater options in the battlespace.
Since RCVs will
be unmanned, that frees up a lot of space for direct and
indirect fires capability, he said, along with a full suite
of sensors and counter-unmanned aerial vehicle packages. An
example of an indirect fire system, he said, is the 81mm
mortar. Direct fire would be what an Abrams' main gun can
Stephens said there's even discussions of
teaming UAVs with the RCVs to provide over-the-horizon
surveillance and reconnaissance.
open-systems architecture design would by necessity include
cyber protection and anti-jamming equipment, Stephens said.
Daniel McCormick, deputy joint program executive officer
for Chemical and Biological Defense, said he's excited about
RCVs and other robotics vehicles, given the chemical,
biological and radiological threats that are proliferating
around the world, particularly on the Korean peninsula and
in the Middle East.
Existing sensors, like infrared
ones, could double-down to not just detect the enemy's
signature and dust but also the signature from biological
and chemical weapons, he said.
would also afford force protection and increased standoff
distance, he said, meaning staying out of reach of enemy
"We are near reaching parity with near-peer
competitors on the battlefield," Stephens concluded, "so
there's goodness in the RCV program."
added, a lot of developmental work still remains to be done
to make lethality the same as the Abrams while lightening
the platform so it's more maneuverable.
to push the limit to get to initial requirement, but we
don't want over-requirements," he added.
noted that there are three Army commands involved with the
RCV program, including the Armament Research, Development
and Engineering Center; the Tank Automotive Research
Development and Engineering Center; and the
Communications-Electronics Research, Development and
He called on industry to help
make the RCV a reality, and also suggested that testing
could be conducted on surrogate vehicles, like the M-113
armored personnel carrier, that the Army would provide.
By U.S. Army David Vergun
Army News Service
Comment on this article