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Is Small Beautiful For The Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle?

There’s serious lesson here which the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle effort is taking to heart. Automation, by replacing bulky humans with compact electronics, can make for smaller combat vehicles that are not only cheaper and more fuel-efficient, but harder to hit.

“The key to survival on the battlefield is not being seen,” said David Johnson, a leading scholar and former top advisor to the Chief of Army Staff. “If you saw the BAE autonomous tank… it is radically smaller than anything we have now, and smaller for a vehicle on the battlefield is a good thing.”

You don’t have to replace the entire crew to benefit, either. The Russians have long been obsessed with smaller tanks, to the point of having height limits for tank crewmen, and starting with their T-64 in the 1960s, they replaced the main gun’s human loader with a mechanical one, allowing for a smaller turret. (The M1’s designers didn’t do this because Cold War autoloaders were not only unreliable but slower than a well-trained human). Today, Russia’s new T-14 Armata tank has a completely automated turret, with the entire three-man crew in the heavily armored hull. The US Army tried a similar configuration with its cancelled Future Combat Systems, a program to build much lighter armored vehicles. BAE’s Armed Robotic Combat Vehicle mini-tank was also originally built for FCS.

Smaller vehicles have advantages for mobility as well as for survivability: They’re easier to transport to the battlefield by ship, plane, or rail, and they’re easier to keep supplied. That’s in stark contrast to the M1 Abrams, which for all its virtues gets three gallons to the mile. During the seizure of Baghdad in 2003, some M1s had to shut down their engines until a fuel convoy could push through, taking casualties on the way. The Army’s concepts for future Multi-Domain Battle envision widely dispersed units, constantly on the move to evade detection and destruction, and able to live off infrequent resupply — something that would be difficult for current heavy forces.

The Next Generation Combat Vehicle, set to enter service by 2035, would be designed to carry out those concepts, said Col. William Nuckols, director of mounted (i.e. vehicle) requirements at Fort Benning’s Maneuver Center. “This is not just about a vehicle, this is about a concept and a formation,” he said at AUSA, “the formation that we need to be able to fight the way that’s prescribed in the Army Functional Concept for Movement and Maneuver.”

“Many of the things in the Movement and Maneuver concept do a great job of making the case for new-start combat platforms that make different trade-offs,” said Maj. Gen. David Bassett, Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Systems. For instance, the Army has upgraded the M1 and M2 engines, he told me at the conference, and there’s more promising tech in the works — but the engine compartments on those vehicles will stay the same size they were when designed in the 1970s, putting a strict physical limit on what upgrades are possible. If you want to dramatically change fuel consumption, speed, firepower, or any other performance characteristic, you need to design a new vehicle.

So how do you build a vehicle to burn less fuel? “Fuel consumption is driven in no small way by overall vehicle weight,” Bassett said. Weight, in turn, is mainly driven by armor. Since no one’s about to develop any new magical armor material that lets us get the same protection for less weight, if you want to reduce weight, you have two choices: accept less protection — fine with unmanned vehicles, not so with humans at risk — or shrink the “volume under armor” you have to protect. Shrinking volume also makes the vehicle a smaller target.

“We are certainly keeping our aperture wide open” about what size and shape the NGCV could be, Nuckols said. In fact, he said, “we’re not certain” if NGCV will replace the M1 Abrams tank, the M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting vehicle, “or potentially both. It could be a family of vehicles.”

For a potential Bradley replacement, Nuckols said, the Army is studying both reducing the crew and reducing the number of infantry passengers. The Bradley today has a three-man crew: a driver in the hull, a commander and a gunner in the turret (its 25 mm ammunition is small enough it doesn’t need a dedicated loader). The commander’s role is to keep a 360 lookout for threats, targets, and terrain so he can direct the gunner and driver, who focus more narrowly on a given target or path. With enough assistance from sensors and artificial intelligence, however — for example, Nuckols said, “automated target acquisition” to serve as a virtual gunner — you could get down to two crew. You could also put both of them in the hull, which would allow for a smaller, cheaper turret that’s harder to hit and, if it is hit, the likely ammunition explosion doesn’t kill anyone.

To really reduce the size of the hull, however, you need to make peace with carrying fewer infantrymen. That’s painful because the raison d’être of an Infantry Fighting Vehicle is to carry infantry. The Bradley nominally carries seven, but that was with the smaller equipment loads — and smaller soldiers — of the 1980s, and even then one man had to cram into the charmingly named “hell hole.” In practice, Bradleys today manage from four to six depending on the mission.

The Army’s standard infantry squad, however, is nine men, a number the service’s analysts and tacticians swear by. The eight-wheel-drive Stryker can carry a full squad, but it’s both large and lightly armored. The cancelled Ground Combat Vehicle would also have carried nine, but putting heavy armor around that many men — plus a manned turret — pushed the vehicle’s weight north of 60 tons. So, while the Army won’t give up the nine-man squad, it’s considering splitting that squad between two (or even three) smaller vehicles.

However big they are, the manned Next Gen Combat Vehicles could well operate with completely robotic “wingmen” similar to BAE’s mini-tank, which is designed to keep up with full-sized armored vehicles. The autonomy software would have to improve. Currently, the BAE Armed Robotic Combat Vehicle can navigate from waypoint to waypoint, using its LIDAR sensors and object recognition to avoid hitting obstacles and running people over, BAE’s Jim Miller told me. For precise driving, like bringing it into the AUSA exhibit space, however, a human takes over by remote control. A human also has to remote-control the gun — no Terminators here. In fact, the ARCV’s robot brain currently doesn’t have the capacity to realize it’s under attack.

Given rapid advances in automation, however, those should be solvable problems. The Army is very interested in autonomous vehicles that could scout ahead of the manned machines or provide supporting fire alongside them. Ideally, these machines wouldn’t require one human remote operator per unmanned vehicle, but would be smart enough that a single human could supervise a whole pack of robots.

The question of control is critical. “One of the problems we have with robotics right now, Sydney, is the fact that we can’t have assured control,” Nuckols said. “Until we have that assured control… we’re going to be hesitant to replace any of our current formation capabilities with a robotic platform.”

If that’s solved, however, it opens up some radical possibilities. “There’s no guarantee that the Abrams will be replaced by a future tank,” Nuckols said. “It could conceptually be replaced by an autonomous vehicle with the lethality of an Abrams.” Equally lethal, but probably smaller — and perhaps cuter.

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Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group Continues the Support of Project Amphora

Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group Continues the Support of Project Amphora

CAMBRIDGE, the UK (BulgarianMilitary.com), 21 September 2018, Editor: Galina Zdravkova, Photo credit: Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group

One of the largest privately owned and independent aerospace and defence companies, offering civil, military and commercial aircraft and defence solutions, Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group, announced on 17 September 2018 that the Ministry of Defence of the United Kingdom has extended its containerised deployable systems support contract, Project Amphora, for a further three years, learned BulgarianMilitary.com

The Head of Operational Infrastructure at DE&S, the MoD’s procurement body, Sam Rawle commented, “Amphora has delivered significant financial and delivery efficiencies in its initial four year term, benefitting all our Front Line Commands; it was an obvious choice to extend the contract to build on these early successes. I look forward to our teams continuing to work together to achieve even more over the next three years.”

For the past 4 years Marshall, together with its partner G3 Systems, has been assigned the task to refurbish and re-engineer a range of shelters so that the deployable shelter systems to be completely supported to demanding operational levels and the equipment’s useful life to be extended.

The Chief Executive of Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group Alistair McPhee underlined, “The extension to the Amphora support contract is a real vote of confidence in the team. It has come about through hard work, focusing on the task and most importantly through integrity and honesty, which has been demonstrated by the close working relationship between the two teams to deliver real value for money for the taxpayer.”

By now, under the current period of contract, the team of Marshall has worked on refurbishing and bringing thirteen different shelter systems up to the newest standards. Systems, the life of which has been extended, are Tardis, the Power Pack Repair Facility (PPRF), and the Deployable Engineering Workshop.

Read more: Saab Will Continue to Provide Logistical Support for the UK’s Arthur System
Read more: UK RAF Typhoons Accredited for Missions over the Black Sea

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First Automated Landing of an MQ-9 Block 5 Completed by USAF

First Automated Landing of an MQ-9 Block 5 Completed by USAF

SAN DIEGO, California, the USA (BulgarianMilitary.com), 21 September 2018, Editor: Galina Zdravkova, Photo credit: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI)

The affiliate of the privately-held company General Atomics and leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems solutions, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), announced on 17 September 2018 that the US Air Force (USAF) has completed the first automated landing of an MQ-9 Block 5, learned BulgarianMilitary.com

Read more: Sarcos Robotics Received a Second Exoskeleton Development Contract from the USAF 

The first-ever automated landing of an MQ-9 Block 5 Remotely Piloted Aircraft was carried out on 7 August 2018 and two days later, on 9 August 2018, the first auto-takeoff of the MQ-9 Block 5 followed.

That innovative Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability (ATLC) has been developed by GA-ASI for the purposes of improving mission capability and thus increasing the safety and efficiency of the air crews.

Read more: The Royal Netherlands Air Force Will Acquire RPAS from GA-ASI (Video)

The President, Aircraft Systems, at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. David R. Alexander, commented, “This new, all-weather capability greatly increases the autonomy, flexibility, combat effectiveness and safety of the MQ-9 Reaper for the USAF. Adding this level of automation will reduce the deployment burden of the warfighter and expand the scope of missions that can be flown by Air Force MQ-9s.”

The ATLC development programme remains on track for fielding next year in the autumn.

Read more: The Two USAF Hypersonic Programmes Awarded to Lockheed Martin

About GA-ASI

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) is a leading company in the field of design and manufacturing of reliable Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems, among which are the Predator®RPA series and the Lynx®Multi-mode Radar. The company also makes various ground control stations and sensor control/image analysis software, develops meta-material antennas and provides pilot training and support services.

Reaper, Predator, and Lynx are registered trademarks of GA-ASI.

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Supacat Announces at DVD2018 That Its All Terrain Mobility Platform Will Be Upgraded

Supacat Announces at DVD2018 That Its All Terrain Mobility Platform Will Be Upgraded

Millbrook, Bedfordshire, the UK (BulgarianMilitary.com), 20 September 2018, Editor: Galina Zdravkova, Photo credit: Supacat

The UK maker of high mobility vehicles, Supacat, has announced at the Defence Vehicle Dynamics (DVD) 2018 exhibition a new programme, under which its All Terrain Mobility Platform (ATMP) will be modernized, learned BulgarianMilitary.com

The original vehicle is still reliable, flexible and capable workhorse although it has been in service with the UK MOD, foreign militaries and other non-defence sectors since the early 1980s (more than 30 years).

Read more: The Procedures for the Bulgarian Land and Air Force Modernization Projects Start

“This is an exciting time for Supacat as we seek to harness the rapid advances in hybrid propulsion and autonomous technologies made over the last few years to enhance the capabilities of our products and team for the benefit of our defence and non-defence customers,” underlined the Engineering Director at Supacat Steve Austen

The modernization programme will include upgrading of the engine and drive train. A hybrid drive train will be integrated into the platform as well. For the purposes of developing the alternative drive solution Supacat are working together with the University of Exeter.

Read more: 21 BMP-2 Fighting Vehicles Upgraded for the Slovak Armed Forces

“The Knowledge Transfer Partnership is an exciting opportunity for us to use the latest academic research in industry to improve and modernize what is already a hugely successful vehicle. It is fantastic to work with a company like Supacat who have a huge wealth of experience and a really agile approach to engineering,” said Matthew Harvey of the University of Exeter comments.

The All Terrain Mobility Platform of Supacat is designed to carry a payload of 1600 kg. The Platform has already been successfully proven in lots of military and humanitarian missions in Canada, Malaysia, Afghanistan, the Gulf, the Falklands, Bosnia, and Kosovo. It can be transported within or underslung below a range of air platforms.

DVD is a biennial two-day Defence industry exhibition held at Millbrook Proving Ground. This year it has been scheduled to take place on 19th and 20th September 2018.

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Cyber and Electronic Warriors of the Future Will Be Trained at New Leonardo Facility

Cyber and Electronic Warriors of the Future Will Be Trained at New Leonardo Facility

ROME, Italy (BulgarianMilitary.com), 19 September 2018, Editor: Galina Zdravkova, Photo credit: Leonardo

The global high-tech company and one of the key players in aerospace, defence and security Leonardo announced on Friday, 14 September 2018, that at a ceremony on the same day the UK’s Chief of Defence Intelligence Air Marshal Philip Osborn officially opened a new training facility of the company, learned BulgarianMilitary.com

The new training facility will be used by Leonardo to train and educate technical specialists within the Cyber and Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA) domain. The company has in invested in that new training centre more than £2M in response to the growing market demand for training in the skills needed to operate in today’s electronics-driven battlespace.

Read more: Leonardo Unveiled Its BriteCloud 55-T for Military Transport Aircraft Protection

It shall be reminded that Lenorado has run a base in Lincoln since 2009, where UK Armed Forces based at the nearby Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington and visiting delegates from allied nations have been trained.

At the new Leonardo Academy facility, UK MoD personnel will be trained in protection of platforms against high-tech threat radar systems. In addition, the Academy will offer a range of domain knowledge modules that provide users with a structured course of education from overview to expert across the CEMA environment, some of which will be part of a Masters of Science (MSc) programme.

The Leonardo Academy in Lincoln will also host delegates from international allies, including Brazil and South Korea. Approximately 70% of the training is expected to be provided to international customers.

The company is quite well prepared to provide the mentioned types of training because it employs some of the best UK experts in CEMA and is one of the main suppliers of such technology to the UK Armed Forces. It shall be mentioned here that Leonardo provides more than 60% of the avionics needed for the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft in service with the RAF and its allies, It also delivers protective equipment and support for the helicopter fleet of the UK.

Read more: Extra money for technical support or C-27J Spartan stays on the ground

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