WASHINGTON — The first stab at building prototypes for what the U.S. Army intends to be an innovative, leap-ahead Next-Generation Combat Vehicle and its robotic wingman will be ready for soldier evaluations in fiscal 2020, according to the service’s new cross-functional team lead for NGCV.
Subsequently, the Army will rapidly produce follow-on prototypes in FY22 and again in FY24, each taking lessons learned from the previous prototypes and refining capabilities. Soldiers will have the chance to heavily evaluate the prototypes at every stage.
Brig. Gen. David Lesperance is in charge of mapping the Army’s plan to develop and field an NGCV, one of the top six modernization priorities laid out by the service. Cross-functional teams, or CFT, were recently formed for each of the priorities and will reside within the Army’s new Futures Command, expected to stand up in the summer.
The CFT has decided to focus on two lines of effort, Lesperance told a small group of reporters in a March 15 phone call. The first line is to build a robotic combat vehicle, “which is an optimally unmanned close combat platform;” the second is the NGCV, an optionally manned vehicle that will get soldiers to a point of lethal advantage in close combat, he said.
The team is executing a detailed proof-of-concept phase to design, test and redesign prototypes that will help the Army define requirements that don’t just procure a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle or an Abrams tank replacement, but will bring to life something completely new and innovative, Lesperance said.
“Everybody asks the question, is it going to replace the Bradley, or is it going to replace the tank?” Lesperance said. “Bottom line at this point: That is not a useful starting point for the conversation.”
Lesperance was hesitant to delve too far into any possible required attributes of the vehicle — the Army is just at the beginning stages.
Lesperance noted the concept designs from industry partners have yet to be delivered, adding: “I don’t want to stifle creativity nor predict what may come back to us.”
He said the team was reaching out to some nontraditional design and engineering sources to look at the problem in a different way. “We are providing much more broad or higher-level requirements to allow industry to come back with a little bit more of their own innovation and creativity.” Those designs are forthcoming, Lesperance said.
“We are looking at an NGCV that really gives us leap-ahead capability from that which we have now. We are looking at critical-enabling and potentially disruptive capability,” he said. That includes a deep dive at reducing weight and shifting the size-weight-power paradigm.
The Army wants next-gen vehicles to be strategically deployable and to operate in dense urban terrain, Lesperance said. The team is looking at robotics and autonomous systems, directed energy and energetics that have lethal and nonlethal protection applications, power generation, and management. These can serve a whole platform’s needs via alternative energy and vehicle protection suites, among a variety of other capabilities that could come from traditional or nontraditional sources.
For the robotic combat vehicle, the Army will take lessons learned from aerial manned-unmanned teaming, which is a capability that has been fielded for several years to fill the armed aerial reconnaissance role left open when the service retired its Kiowa Warrior helicopters.
Teaming a manned and robotic vehicle “opens up a lot of possibilities for different tactics, techniques and procedures,” Lesperance said. Making contact with the enemy first using a robotic vehicle gives a unit leader the time to make better battlefield decisions, he said.
Dr. Hans C. Mumm