“Our enemies have not remained static,” warns Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the Army’s charismatic chief futurist. One assessment says that Russia will have surpassed US forces in three of 10 key areas of combat by 2030, reached parity in six, and remain behind in only one. On the US side, the current M1 Abrams heavy tank and M2 Bradley armed transport have been upgraded so many times already that they’re close to “maxed out,” McMaster told an Association of the US Army conference yesterday. But at the same time, he said, “we have tremendous opportunities, associated with technologies at a high level of maturity that can be incorporated into a new generation combat vehicle.”
Next Generation combat vehicle(s) by 2035
The US Army wants its Next Generation Combat Vehicle to serve as pack master to a swarm of crawling and flying robots. It wants lighter weapons with heavier firepower, able to aim almost straight up to shoot drones out of the sky and hit rooftop snipers. It wants miniaturized missile defenses to shoot down incoming anti-tank weapons. It wants suspension, underbody, and crew compartments designed from the ground up (literally) to resist landmines and roadside bombs. It wants diesel-electric engines — like a giant Prius — or other advanced motors that can power an array of jammers, sensors, and drone-killing lasers.
To take full advantage of the new technologies, he said, you need to build a new vehicle designed around them.
The factor that drives armored vehicle design, more than any other, is “volume under armor.” The bigger the gun, the bigger the engine, and above all the bigger the crew, the more armor you have to wrap around them to achieve any given level of protection, and, of course, the more armor, the more weight. The M1 is built to handle the recoil of a 120 mm smoothbore cannon and to accommodate a four-man crew: commander, driver, gunner, and loader. If you replace the 120 with a lighter weapon that uses more powerful “energetics” — i.e. warhead and gunpowder — to get the same effect, then redesign the turret around the smaller weapon, each pound saved on the gun itself saves you multiple pounds of armor on the vehicle overall. If you replace the human loader with a mechanical autoloader — unreliable gadgets back in the 1970s but mature today — you can save even more weight and possibly take the crew out of the turret entirely (as on the new Russian T-14 Armata).
The goal isn’t just to build a better Bradley or Abrams, Wesley said. “We need to think more broadly, (e.g.) manned-unmanned teaming,” he said, referring to humans and robots working closely together. The unmanned systems scout ahead and, potentially, carry weapons, acting as expendable skirmishers and spear-carriers for manned vehicle, which is the only one that needs full-up armor. “If I’ve got a remotely piloted or tethered vehicle” — with zero humans inside to protect — now I can really reduce weight,” Wesley said.
The Army’s overly ambitious Future Combat Systems program was cancelled in 2009.
What’s different? To start with, the Army literally boxed itself in on FCS, trying to build vehicles as powerful as a 70-ton M1 that could fit in an Air Force C-130, which can carry a maximum of 19 tons. The Next Generation Combat Vehicle isn’t constrained by weight, although “lighter than the M1” is clearly a goal; air-deployable firepower is being provided by a completely different program, the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) light tank, which isn’t expected to take on the hardest targets. To meet its weight limits, FCS tried to use Active Protection Systems instead of heavy armor; the current approach is to layer APS on top of heavy armor, a much more reliable approach.
SOURCE – Breaking Defense
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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