The US Army is currently undergoing a major transformation of its next generation combat vehicle platforms. At the heart of this is the cross functional team (CFT), which tests equipment as it is being designed, giving soldiers on the field instant feedback on its use by having prototypes deployed through numerous training and live fire exercises. The feedback is then fed back to army commanders giving them an indication of their effectiveness and where functionality can be improved.

As the US Army is phasing its 2030 strategy of cross functionality across multiple divisions, one of the most relevant topics at the moment is the Next Generation Combat Vehicles. At the Global Forces Next 2021 convention, the program provided the industry with guidance on the progress of the platforms and what to be expected in the months ahead.

The core focus areas for each program is:- 'Lethality, Robotics, Autonomy, Survivability and Mobility'

With a focus on near peer dominance, the core objective is to 'overmatch any potential peer / near peer adversary' As it stands there are 5 seperate programs, each with its own unique concepts and possible variants.

(1) Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV)

The tender to replace the Bradley fighting vehicle is one of the core objectives. Last year, we saw an announcement to withdraw the initial phase, due to lack of competitive viable options. The army's feedback was that what they were seeing wasn't where they wanted to be going in the future,  and that moving forward they would be taking a much broader approach to requirements – particularly leaving innovation from an industry perspective. The US Army have now gone back to the industry for further designs.

With an announcement due next month (April) on major tenders, there were no secrets revealed, due to the competitive phase and tender requirements. However, army commanders did tease there could be up to 7-8 bidders, and a number of partnerships are already being formed (classified) of which 5 could be awarded contracts to build prototypes for soldier test and evaluation. As it stands, these contracts would be rewarded in July this year.

(2) Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV)

The RCV program is currently in a testing and capabilities phase for its Robotic Combat Vehicle Lighting (RCV-L) program, where soldiers are getting a hands-on look at prototype variants during live training exercises on the potential use of emerging UGV's. The demonstration video and discussion spoke in depth about the role of manned and unmanned teaming (MUT).

There are currently 3 'RCV's which are being prototyped:-

Robotic Combat Vehicle Light (RCV-L)

This design is being developed by Qinetiq and Pratt & Miller, the design is a diesel electric model with around 8,500 pounds and a maximum payload of 7,500 pounds. In a video shown at Future Forces 2021, some of the concepts in terms of deployment including the first demonstration of Manned / Unmanned Teaming (MUT), plus the use of a smoke creator. Currently 4 RCV-L vehicles are being delivered in prototype.

Robotic Combat Vehicle Medium (RCV-M)

This vehicle was all the buzz at AUSA, with an initial design contracted to ‘Team Ripsaw’ a combination of Textron, Howe & Howe and Flir. An early delivery of a partially developed system was delivered back in February, with the first delivery due at the end of April and May this year. Similar to the RCV-L, it will be integrated to a government controlled RTK software following functionality testing.

Robotic Combat Vehicle Heavy (RCV-H)

There were no new revelations on the RCV-H as of Future Forces last week, what we do know from previous sources (Defense News) tells us that it is some way behind its sister companions (RCV-M and RCV-L).

(3) Multi Protected Firepower (MPF)

The MPF is a lightweight tank, designed to provide support to soldiers in tough and hostile situations. The role of the vehicle is to be deployed when a soldier or infantry team is in immediate danger. This vehicle is part of the armies shift away from counterinsurgency operations to high intensity and near peer conflicts, which are contested in multi domain arenas. The lightweight vehicle tank is designed to neutralise enemy positions in the field, whether enemy bunkers or armored vehicles; and provide support for artillery and infantry support teams.

The Multi Protected Firepower (MPF) vehicle is the furthest down the development phase right now in terms of long term development. Information once again was scarce, due to the competitive phase, however the lead suppliers are currently General Dynamics and BAE Systems. Currently prototypes are being trialled, with soldier feedback once again the drive towards a future assessment and choice on the final design.

The announcement of the sole winner will be due next Summer 2022, with launch production and delivery to begin shortly after.

(4) Armored Multi Purpose Vehicle (AMPV)

This AMPV is being described as the ‘workforce’ for armoured brigade combat teams.

The replacement for the M113 is well underway, the contract with BAE Systems has already fielded prototypes and a variety of modular versions. It is currently in testing stage and going through low production. Army generals have spoken about challenges along the way, particularly on the manufacturing side, as the covid pandemic has unfortunately hit vital supply chains, so the production ramp up has been slow.

Currently there are 5 variants; the mobile command variant prototypes have already been delivered, which has the most comprehensive range of technology suites onboard compared to other variants. Other variants include General Purpose, Mortar Carrier, Medical Evacuation and Medical Treatment.

(5) Optionally Manned Tank (OMT)

There was very little provided in terms of new information on the OMT at this years Global Force Next forum. What we do know is that it will be based on new technologies. It will replace the long serving Abraham M1 tank with the option to be both manned and unmanned, with an Active Protection System (APS).

In the most recent issue of Defence & Security Systems International, there was a conversation with Brigadier General Ross Coffman on the evolving role of the modernised tank of the future:-