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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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The First of Four Red Flag-Alaska Exercises Scheduled for 2018 Was Held

The First of Four Red Flag-Alaska Exercises Scheduled for 2018 Was Held

WASHINGTON (the USA), May 18, 2018, Author: Galina Zdravkova, Photo: Senior Airman Isaac Johnson/U.S. Air Force

The first of four scheduled for 2018 exercises, Red Flag-Alaska 18-1, was held from 30th April to 11th May, reported Defense News.

The other three exercises, Red Flag-Alaska 18-2, 18-3 and 19-1 are scheduled for June 11 – 22, 2018, Aug. 11 – 24, 2018, and Oct. 8 – 19, 2018 respectively.

This was the first time in the history of Red Flag-Alaska when the U.S. Air Force and Army together with NATO allies demonstrated a joint capability.

Red Flag-Alaska is a unique initiative that provides a more realistic operational training environment.

The radar technician, Staff Sgt. Ryan Goll, explained, “Red Flag-Alaska provides the type of training that is only replicable in real-life combat situations. It’s a really good example of the air-to-air component. Tracking enemy fighters and actually getting our communications gear jammed — this is more than your typical sortie or exercise; Red Flag is the most realistic training you’re going to get.”

And the air battle manager, Capt. Noel Conrard, added, “When we are at home station [training] it’s like a backyard football scrimmage; we just don’t have as many players. But at a large force exercise like Red Flag-Alaska, it’s like playing on a regular sized football field. We execute different tactics and integrate with more assets. It allows the E-3 to be used to the fullest extent of its capabilities.”

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The U.S. Marine Corps Accepted the Delivery of its First CH-53K

The U.S. Marine Corps Accepted the Delivery of its First CH-53K

JACKSONVILLE (North Carolina, the USA), May 18, 2018, Author: Galina Zdravkova, Photo: the Marine Corps

On the 16th May, the United States Marine Corps (USMC) accepted the delivery of its first CH-53 King Stallion heavy lift helicopter at the New River Air Station in Jacksonville, North Carolina, reported Defense News.

The new acquisition of the Marine Corps is reported to be the most powerful helicopter within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

In a command release, the deputy commandant for aviation, Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder stated, “I am very proud of the work accomplished to deliver the most powerful helicopter ever designed into the hands of our Marines.”

Except its powerfulness the CH-53K also features an exceptional bearing capacity by lifting almost three times the weight of the CH-53E. The latter has been demonstrated in January, when the helicopter managed to lift a 19,000 pound (around 8,618 kg) Joint Light Tactical Vehicle at 100 feet (around 30 m) for about ten minutes.

Unfortunately, before 2019, it will not be operational.

With regard to the above, in a command release, it was explained from the Corps that, “The helicopter’s arrival to New River enters it into the Supportability Test Plan where U.S. Marines will conduct a logistical assessment on the maintenance, sustainment and overall aviation logistics support of the King Stallion.”

The first international debut of the CH-53K took place in April at ILA Berlin air show.

The intentions of the Corps include delivery of 200 CH-53Ks, eight of which are already contracted. According to Sikorsky Aircraft, the manufacturer of the CH-53K, a second one will be delivered to the Corps in the beginning of 2019.

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Zetor Engineering Presents Its Tactical Vehicles GERLACH and FOX at IDEB 2018

Zetor Engineering Presents Its Tactical Vehicles GERLACH and FOX at IDEB 2018

BRATISLAVA (Slovakia), May 17, 2018, Author: Zetor Engineering Slovakia, Photo: Zetor Engineering (GERLACH Project)

The international defence exhibition IDEB 2018 in Bratislava, from 16 to 18, 2018, welcomed lots of novelties, among which are the Armored Tactical 4×4 vehicle, GERLACH, and the lightweight tactical vehicle, FOX, presented by Zetor Engineering Slovakia, a.s., which is part of HTC INVESTMENTS, a.s.

GERLACH is a tactical vehicle that involves the latest technical, construction, as well as combat experience from this century. GERLACH offers a new level of protection, modularity, mobility and comfort for the most diverse types of deployment at a highly competitive price (the basic version starts at EUR 398.000).

Zetor Engineering Presents Its Tactical Vehicles GERLACH and FOX at IDEB 2018

Armoured Vehicle – Gerlach, Picture by Zetor Engineering

The key features of GERLACH include optional ballistic and anti-mine protection, which allows you to configure GERLACH up to protection level STANAG 4569 Volume 3, i.e. to one of the highest levels specified in the so-called IEDs (Improvised Explosive Device Systems); high mobility, which is particularly achieved thanks to unique construction solutions and the use of high-quality key components from renowned European suppliers; and a combination of comfortable crew compartment – besides the usual 2+2 and 2+3, it also offers the above-standard crew members of 2+4.

In relation to the GERLACH project, the company targets all markets where procurement or replacement of obsolete 4×4 multipurpose vehicles is under way.

For its part, FOX is a rapid deployment vehicle, which has undergone foreign military tests. It shows high off-road performance of the RDV (Rapid Deployment Vehicle) category and is intended for the needs of special forces or rapid deployment forces. The vehicle transports a four-member crew and equipment, including armaments. The key attributes of FOX include high off-road 4×4 performance, low weight, configuration adaptability in accordance with the requirements of the customers.

Zetor Engineering Presents Its Tactical Vehicles GERLACH and FOX at IDEB 2018

Rapid Development Vehicle – VOX, Picture by Zetor Engineering

The vehicle was first presented at IDET 2017. At IDEB 2018, the company is showcasing again the FOX due to the positive feedback from IDET 2017.

Zetor Engineering Slovakia was founded in June 2000. It is a professional partner for development, innovation and comprehensive delivery solutions in the field of defence industry. The GERLACH project has also involved several other companies from the engineering sector, which are also part of HTC Investment a.s. – Zetor Engineering Brno, Ltd., IPM Engineering, Ltd., as well as ZETOR Tractors.

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Large Presence of Local and International Light Tactical Products at SOFEX

Large Presence of Local and International Light Tactical Products at SOFEX

AMMAN (Jordan), May 16, 2018, Author: Galina Zdravkova, Photo: Oshkosh Defense (S-ATV)

During the 12th Special Operations Forces Exhibition SOFEX, in Jordan last week (8th – 10th May) it was noticed the large presence of local and international light tactical products, reported Defence News.

In that connection, the marketing and communication manager of the KADDB Investment Group based in Jordan, Abdallah Al Salman, stated, “The new type of threats faced today requires the use of light vehicles able to meet the demand of the countries confronting terrorism in an asymmetric environment where the assemblage of terrorist groups is becoming more concentrated in residential areas. In order to counter this new type of threats, you certainly need smaller and lighter, high-manoeuvrable vehicles.”

Among the other examples that Al Salman gave in relation to the above mentioned was the exhibited Al-Washaq armoured personnel carrier (APC), which is the latest version of the King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB). It has been developed after the requirements of customers, who need “smaller vehicles to manoeuvre in narrow neighbourhoods and streets.” On its roof may be installed different weapons.

Another tactical product that was presented during the exhibition was the Special Purpose All-Terrain Vehicle (S-ATV) of Oshkosh Defense – the manufacturer of tactical wheeled vehicles. The S-ATV is advertised as being able to meet a range of mission requirements for armed forces. Its light weight has been especially designed in order to be possible both external and internal helicopter transportability.

The head of Lockheed Martin’s Middle East and Africa regional business, Anthony Winns, underlined that the cost and size are among the most important things for customers. He said, “A lot of the focus is on cost and miniaturization. And when you’re able to reduce cost, that means you are able to buy more weapons. The economies are dictating that you want to be able to spend your money more effectively, and governments want to do that. The lighter weapons ― the less costly and the more effective ones.”

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