Fast, tiny, stealthy manned and unmanned tanks

DARPA’s Ground X-Vehicle Technology program (GXV-T) initiative that could lead to an entirely new era of tanks and armored combat vehicles. GXV-T would offer tank-like protection on a vehicle that resembles a futuristic All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) but is smaller than a traditional tank.

They are using augmented reality for windowless vehicles.

DARPA is not looking to replace any single vehicle or vehicle family through GXV-T, but to identify ways to break the “more armor” paradigm that has been the cornerstone of mechanized vehicle protection for the past century. Weapons’ ability to penetrate armor has advanced faster than armor’s ability to withstand penetration, so even incremental improvements in crew survivability require significant increases in vehicle mass and cost. The GXV-T program seeks to investigate revolutionary ground-vehicle technologies to simultaneously improve mobility and survivability through means other than adding more armor, including avoiding detection, engagement, and hits by autonomously avoiding inbound threats.

Four technical areas as examples where advanced technologies could be developed to meet program objectives are:
Radically Enhanced Mobility – Ability to traverse diverse off-road terrain, including slopes, various elevations, and a range of surfaces and gradients; advanced suspensions and redefined track or wheel configurations; extreme speed; rapid omnidirectional movement changes in three dimensions
Survivability through Agility – Autonomously avoid incoming threats without harming occupants through technologies such as agile motion (dodging) and active repositioning of armor
Crew Augmentation – Improved physical and electronically assisted situational awareness for crew and passengers; semi-autonomous driver assistance and automation of key crew functions
Signature Management – Reduction of detectable signatures, including visible, infrared (IR), acoustic, and electromagnetic (EM)

15 thoughts on “Fast, tiny, stealthy manned and unmanned tanks”

  1. Battleships were made obsolete by aircraft carriers. Now main battletanks are on their way to become obsolete because of drones and missiles.

    • But they aren’t. Battleships became obsolete because of the range advantage of aircraft. However the current metric of missiles vs aircraft and especially COST means a modern BB or BC would be better.

      For instance the cost in a carrier comes from the enormous amount of people and material. One of the problems is people. 5500 or so for a Nimitz. 4500 or so for a new Ford. People are by far one of the most if not the most expensive things the US Military pays for.

      So basically a modern battlecruiser is just as good if not better than a carrier but it lacks the capability to do all the things a modern carrier can do. So everyone is still building carriers.

      And same for tanks. This is the EXACT same program that went through years ago with HORRIBLE results. As in nothing.

      The problem is this. Any way you have of making a ground combat drone better is great….but it wont be cheaper than the man portable missile that can track it and kill it. BUT, that missile can be killed with systems and weapons….but those are heavy and require a larger vehicle….which is less flexable and more prone to break down. So it gets more armor and more systems…..and in the end just becomes another tank.

      • That’s also the thing with current laser defensive systems: while they are powerful enough to take out drones, the large footprint of the system necessitates a large vehicle. Sure cost of engagement is reduced significantly, with a (let’s say) $2.00 “shot” of the laser able to disable a (at the low end) $10,000 aerial drone. However, what’s to stop 3 of these cheap-drones to smash themselves into the multi-million dollar laser defense vehicle? And then how about 10 drones (time-to-kill and all of that being an unknown factor, of course)?

        So we’ll stick it on the ships with plenty of energy reserves because they’re already inherently big and so will the laser systems for the foreseeable future. Big things will always be useful, it’s just mission dependent. Like you said, battleships became ineffective for their intended role, so they were re-purposed, just as is now happening with MBT’s.

        I wonder if we’ll see retrofitting a BB hull or Aegis craft into a pure defensive craft with more lasers than missiles. Where’s the energy required/cost per engagement/effectiveness sweet spot? Break out those spreadsheets….

    • If you really think the battleship → aircraft carrier analogy is worthwhile, then we end up with
      tank-with-big-guns → tank-with-multiple-drones-and-sub-robots

      • a tank with drones is not required, as drones dont require a slow tank.
        ships got replaced by aircrafts, who got replaced by fast rockets, and slow drones.

  2. Looks like a good way to supply your enemy with parts and weapons and batteries and wheels. No enemy should fear a remote control technical vehicle. Just blind it.

    As if we eventually won’t have to get our hands dirty. BS

  3. I like the argument for these vehicles, in that sneak attacks are far more valuable than larger vehicles which puts people at a tactical advantage. My main critique of this situation is that in an environment such as Afghanistan, where the locals have intimate knowledge of the terrain, might be easily surrounded if spotted by drone.

  4. War is mostly an economics issue. One must exceed the enemy’s economic ability to continue to war. The ultimate, “Grey goo”, provides more cheap targets than the enemy can destroy. Likewise, removing humans from combat reduces cost to small cheap robot swarms.

    At some “small is better” point weapons cost will exceed drone costs. For instance, a 50 caliber cartridge may have a cost of $5 while getting it statistically on target may have a cost of $500. Likewise, the superior automated economy has an edge also over an underfunded enemy.

    The ancient “war on the cheap” method of having two warrior champions fight to determine a winner should be replaced by having two accounting avatars(each with a stake representing the parties economic interests) duel to the finish.

    • What economic interest do the Taliban have? They’ve explicitly stated that their goal is sharia law over all of Afghanistan, which even in function during the 1990’s did not make Afghanistan the trading power it was in the past. For over two decades now the US has been fighting wars against militarily insignificant forces with mantras of being isolation and terror proliferation against the west. So we are not using force against economies but people who want a radical change in the their countries social structure, similar to the Nazi’s.

  5. We saw something similar with infantry and cavalry in medieval times. For a long time they were getting increasingly heavier and more sophisticated armor. Then weapons capability made the armor ineffective, with the advent of gunpowder, and the armor was gone in favor of new tactics. Now we’re seeing this with armored vehicles.

    Armor might get an extension for a while with new materials, but eventually the weapons will outpace it. Then maybe we’ll figure out the sci-fi-like energy shields, and see this pattern repeat again.

    • Thats not why the knights and heavy horse became obsolete.

      It was the industrial revolution and the death of the old systems. Basically, cavalry and Knights in particular were damned expensive. However the thing that killed the knight and heavy cavalry on the battlefield was not the gun but the well drilled professional pike formations that came about. You could literally train and field a unit of a hundred pikemen for what it cost to house, train, and horse a Heavy cavalry knight,

      Hell armor was still around even heavy horse. The Gendarme were dang effective when used properly, Really it came down to the systems at the time were changing. Feudalism was no longer the necessary thing as Kings and Queens took back more and more power and wealth.

      And besides the systems and armor are already outpacing it, Trophy and other such systems exist and are becoming more common.

      • The industrial revolution happened several centuries after the heavily armoured cavalry was phased out.

        And pikemen, ie the Greek phalanx, were introduced millennia before this.

        You are mixing up completely different historical eras.

        • No, no I’m not. I did miss speak when I said it was the industrial revolution but the rest is true.

          Heavy cavalry served into the Renaissance they weren’t as all powerful and as numerous because of the pike and the relative cost per man but they were still useful.

          This can be seen in the actions of the Polish winged Hussars in the 15th century and Gustavus Adulphus and the Finish horse in the 16th century. Basically advances in agriculture made during the Renaissance as well as the change in the basic economic and political structure of the European nations during the time made it more effective to hire, train, and maintain large infantry armies than it had in the past.

          The guns didn’t matter they over all were no more accurate or deadly than a bow or crossbow. In fact in terms of rof and range the longbow was better far into the time of rifles. What changed was that well disciplined, well trained infantry became common place. Add to this the increase in cannon and seige lines etc and the cavalry took a back seat most of the time.

          Really during this time their tactics and their place looked a whole lot like that of a Byzantine Cataphract.

          Yes the greeks and the Macedonians used the Phalanx and also the Romans however they all differed in how they did it. Closest ones to the Renaissance time were the Macedonians.

          Same reason the Romans could conquer. Horse even Heavy horse DONT charge a intact phalanx. It just ends up with a whole bunch of dead horses and dead riders.

    • Both you and James raise some good points: weapons created to penetrate armor, armor updated to counter those weapons, ad infinitum. I argue that there has to come a point where, a tank for instance, will have more specialized shells available to it than there are types of armor to layer on. Put another way, a tank could have armor that can withstand 9 of 10 types of anti-vehicle rounds, but does poorly against the 10th. All it takes is for the attacker to have that 10th round and the armor is effectively mitigated.

      It’s a bit of a stretch, as (all other visuals being the same) the attacker has to identify the type of armor being worn. But perhaps the next-gen tanks have modular armor sets that can be attached for mission-dependent tasks. A tank with “unknown armor” could be probed and identified with more sophisticated laser systems.

      But coming more so back to reality, I bet range will be the next offensive asset to be updated: hypersonics, EMRG’s, and the optics on lasers will all push engagement areas to their limits, with the optics on lasers already aiding targeting and tracking to ranges not before seen. “Recurve bow, meet the longbow”.


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