Combat Lasers and hybrid power for Next-Generation US Combat Vehicle

The US Army’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle will probably run on alternate-power sources, have directed-energy weapons, advanced-composite armor and an active protection system.

“There’s a solid four years of analysis that has to occur” before decisions are made on procurement requirements, said Col. William T. Nuckols, director of the Mounted Requirements Division at the Maneuver Center of Excellence. Nuckols chaired an NGCV panel at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Institute of Land Warfare “Hot Topic” forum focusing on Army Ground Combat Platforms.

“This is not a short-term endeavor,” Nuckols said. “This is a multi-decade effort to get us to the first unit equipped in 2035.”

But fielding the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle by then means major decisions must be made by 2025, he said, pointing out that’s just eight years from now.

German 2030 tank concept

DARPA robot tanklets


Dr. John Gordon IV, senior policy researcher for RAND, said the threats facing combat vehicles in the future will shape the NGCV.

The biggest threats to combat vehicles now are rocket-propelled grenades, armor-piercing-guided munitions known as APGMs, and improvised explosive devices or mines, he said.

“Non-state actors are heavily armed with these systems, as well as state-level opponents,” he said.

The penetrating power of shape-charged weapons have “increased dramatically,” he said. Many now have tandem warheads to deal with things like explosive-reactive armor.

“Modern APGMs can go through a meter of armor plate after they blast through an explosive-reactive armor array,” Gordon said. “That’s pretty difficult to cope with.”


Biofuels offer a cheaper and readily available alternative to diesel or gas, he said. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, is experimenting with algae to produce biofuels, he said.

Hydrogen fuel-cell technology is available now, he said, but it’s dense. Hydrogen fuel cells today would need to be two or three times the size of diesel fuel tanks, he said, so there are challenges that need to be worked out.

“Fuel cells coupled with other technology, like high-capacity batteries” might be able to energize weapons like lasers, he said.

Fuel cells can also be coupled with diesel to save money on fuel and decrease the logistics footprint on the battlefield, he said. And electric energy from braking can also be stored in capacitors and re-used.

A turbo-charger can also recover waste energy from the exhaust system, he said. This technology is currently being used in Formula One racing cars. Electricity can be generated from the expanding exhaust fumes, and heat loss from vehicles can also be converted to energy.

“The big advantage of electric drives is,” Paulson said, “we’ll be able to supply more power to combat vehicles to support future weapons like high-intensity lasers, rail guns, or active protection systems and improved situational-awareness electronics.”


While laser technology is emerging for weapons, Dr. Bryan Cheeseman said more research needs to be conducted to use directed-energy for vehicle protection. Cheeseman is the team leader of the Material Manufacturing and Technology Branch, Army Research Laboratory.

Vehicles of the future will need 360-degree protection, he said. Threats from above could come in the form of unmanned aircraft; threats on the side from conventional weapons and threats underneath from IEDs.

Active protection systems could detect and destroy incoming rounds, he said, adding that technology has been proven valuable. Additionally, more S&T focus needs to be put toward using directed energy as force-field-type protection.

Many advanced-composite materials are being looked at for armor protection, he said, adding that nanotechnology and nano-grain metals are also possible.

External suspension is another technology that can help protect against underbelly blasts, he said. Hydro-mechanical and hydro-pneumatic suspension are among them.

“From an underbody perspective, we can say we can mitigate a large portion of the threats that are out there,” Cheesman said. But that comes with more weight and cost.