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US Army Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV) program advances

Current Ground combat vehicles, especially main battle tanks (MBT) and infantry fighting vehicles (IFV), are the mainstay of technologically superior armies. The combination of firepower, mobility and survivability allows such vehicles to dominate ground military operations.

Now militaries are realizing much of the fighting in future conflicts will take place in cities. Whether Russia in the Caucasus, Israel in Gaza and southern Lebanon, or the United States and its allies in Iraq, many sophisticated armies have experienced urban warfare over the past two decades. Urban assault has many unique challenges.

The likelihood is high that the Army won’t get to pick the time and place of its choosing for the next battle, said Gen. Robert Abrams. But it’s likely that the next battle will take place in a megacity, said Abrams, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command. He spoke, Nov. 30, here during the Future Ground Combat Vehicles Summit. “The chance of fighting in a megacity is going to go through the roof,” he said, pointing out that there are currently 25 megacities across the world. A megacity is defined as a city of 25 million or more inhabitants. By 2035, the number of megacities is projected to double.

 

The RCV is a vehicle being developed as part of the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) family of vehicles. The Army plans to develop three RCV variants:
Light, Medium, and Heavy. The Army reportedly envisions employing RCVs as “scouts” and “escorts” for manned fighting vehicles to deter ambushes and to guard the flanks  of mechanized formations. As originally planned, RCVs are to be controlled by operators riding in NGCVs, but the Army hopes that improved ground navigation technology and artificial intelligence (AI) might eventually permit a single operator to control multiple RCVs or for RCVs to operate in a more autonomous mode.

Three RCV Variants

According to the Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle Campaign Plan, January 16, 2019, obtained by CRS, the Army plans to develop three RCV variants:

RCV Light (RCV-L)

The RCV-L  is to weigh no more than 10 tons, with dimensions (length, width, height) of no more than 224 x 88 x 94 inches. In terms of transportability, a single RCV-L would be transported by rotary wing aircraft. The RCV-L would also have limited on-board lethality such as self-defense systems, anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), or recoilless weapons. The RCV-L is considered an
expendable weapon system, meaning its destruction in combat is expected and acceptable.

RCV Medium (RCV-M)

The RCV-M  is to weigh between 10 and 20 tons, with dimensions (length, width, height) of no more than 230 x 107 x 94 inches. In terms of transportability, a single RCV-M is to be transported by a C-130 transport aircraft. The RCV-M is to have increased onboard lethality to defeat light- to medium-armored threats. The RCV-M is considered “durable” by the Army, meaning the Army
would like the RCV-M to be more survivable than the RCV-L

RCV Heavy (RCV-H)

The RCV-H  is to weigh between 20 and 30 tons, with dimensions (length, width, height) of no more than 350 x 144 x 142 inches. In terms of transportability, two RCV-Hs would be transported by a C-17 transport aircraft. The RCV-H is to have on-board direct fire weapon systems capable of defeating all known enemy armored vehicles. The RCV-H is considered a nonexpendable weapon system, meaning that it should be as survivable as a crewed system.

 

Status of RCV Effort

According to an August 2020 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report:
The Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV) effort is currently employing other transaction agreements
(OTA) to conduct experiments to determine the availability and maturity of technologies and the
validity of operating concepts. The outcome of these experiments will be used to determine
whether an acquisition program is feasible, with plans for three vehicle variants—a light, a medium, and a heavy variant. As RCV is not yet a program of record, no acquisition approach has been selected.

On January 10, 2020, the Army announced it would award an Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) to QinetiQ North America (Virginia—main headquarters is in the United Kingdom) to build four RCV-Ls and Textron (Rhode Island) to build four RCV-Ms.

The Army’s effort to field the Robotic Combat Vehicle has completed a major soldier experimentation phase, and the team behind the phase two prototype is looking forward to the next stage of the competition for the RCV-Light variant.

Described as the “largest ground robotic experiment in history” in an Aug. 17 Army news article, the experiment had soldiers putting the QinetiQ/Pratt Miller RCV-L and Textron RCV-Medium prototypes through “reconnaissance and security tasks against a ‘near-peer’” opposition force to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the platforms. The experimentation is part of phase two of a development process that would see the robotic vehicles fielded in 2028.

“The testing has gone well,” Mawson said. “We are getting some really good … feedback from the touch points from the soldiers in the field as to what needs to improve and what could possibly improve.”

The Army is taking the data gathered during the experimentation to refine the requirements that will go into the request for proposals for the next phase of the program. That document should be out later this year, and then industry will have several months to provide feedback before the request is finalized, Mawson said.

“We’ve been hearing some of the requirements that could possibly be in there as far as if there might be some sort of wet-gap crossing or amphibious-type capability,” he said. “We know that signature management is going to be important, so we’re looking at different ways to have that capability.”

 

RCV Testing

In March 2021, the Army reportedly stated it would conduct operational experiments for Light and Medium RCVs from June to August 2022 at Ft. Hood, TX. General Dynamics Land Systems will also reportedly provide four RCV-M prototypes for the Army to test at Ft. Hood. The
Army noted it plans to decide in FY2023 whether to proceed to the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase for the RCV-L, and to make a similar decision in FY2024 for the RCV-M.

 

The U.S. Army intends to test an entire company of unmanned combat vehicles in simulated battle in 2023, a wargame that leaders called unprecedented and a big step toward refining the hardware and software that will one day enable wheeled robots to take the battlefield.

 

The U.S. Army intends to test an entire company of unmanned combat vehicles in simulated battle next year, a wargame that leaders called unprecedented and a big step toward refining the hardware and software that will one day enable wheeled robots to take the battlefield.

 

U.S. Department of Defense Awards $50 Million Contract to Kodiak Robotics for Autonomous U.S. Army Ground Reconnaissance Vehicles

Kodiak Robotics, Inc., a leading self-driving trucking company, announced in Dec 2022 it has been awarded a $49.9 million, 24-month United States Department of Defense (DoD) agreement to help automate future U.S. Army ground vehicles led by the Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV) program. This effort will be in support of vehicles designed for reconnaissance, surveillance, and other high-risk missions.

Through this award, which started in October 2022 and was awarded by DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) on behalf of the Army’s RCV program office, Kodiak will leverage its commercial self-driving software to develop, test and deploy autonomous capabilities for driverless vehicles that further strengthen national security. Kodiak will develop autonomous vehicle technology for the Army to navigate complex terrain, diverse operational conditions and GPS-challenged environments, while also providing the Army the ability to remotely operate vehicles when necessary.

Wartime is extraordinarily complex with high-risk challenges that often result in troops operating near or behind enemy lines. Deploying autonomous vehicles to perform such critical and dangerous tasks has the potential to significantly reduce the risk to troops, while giving them greater access to the information they need in the field. Additionally, the remote driving capabilities Kodiak will develop for the Army will increase the flexibility of these autonomous vehicles, while further reducing risk for soldiers. The project will also provide a technical pipeline that will enable the rapid development and deployment of new autonomous vehicle technologies as they become commercially available.

Kodiak Robotics was the only autonomous vehicle company initially selected for this award out of 33 submissions, thanks to its proven leadership in autonomous systems development and commercialization, as well as its intense focus on safety.

 

References and Resources also include:

https://sgp.fas.org/crs/weapons/IF11876.pdf

https://www.defenseone.com/technology/2021/10/us-army-stage-largest-robot-tank-experiment-ever/186110/

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/us-department-of-defense-awards-50-million-contract-to-kodiak-robotics-for-autonomous-us-army-ground-reconnaissance-vehicles-301695349.html

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