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US Army would like to test unmanned vehicles with firepower of M1 Abrams tank

Within five years, the U.S. Army would like to start testing remote combat vehicle prototypes, known as RCVs, which are unmanned, as light and as fast as a Stryker, but provide the same level of firepower as an M-1 Abrams tank.

US Army would like to test unmanned vehicles with firepower of M1 Abrams tank 925 001
A Maneuver Robotics and Autonomous Systems Live Fire Demonstration takes place Aug. 22, 2017 at the Digital Multi-Purpose Range Complex at Fort Benning, Ga. The Army wants to design a Remote Combat Vehicle like this but much more lethal and maneuverable. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Patrick A. Albright)

According the Majior Alan L. Stephens, an Acquisition Corps officer at the Mounted Requirements Division of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, an unmanned combat vehicle could go ahead of the manned to scout out the area, navigate through the most dangerous sectors of the battlefield and engage the enemy, while the manned vehicle would follow.

The current thinking for test configuration, he said, is two unmanned for every manned RCV, with the manned variant controlling the other two. But that ratio of 1:2 could change once testing commences and bugs are worked out. Eventually, he said, a 1:4 ratio could be likely.

Additionally, he said, the term "unmanned" implies varying levels of autonomy. At the lowest level, for instance, a vehicle might have no personnel inside, but would be controlled by Soldiers through a tethered radio link. At the highest level, a vehicle might be fully autonomous, requiring artificial intelligence and neural networking -- something not yet achievable, but clearly on the horizon.

Another advantage with RCV over Abrams is that it will be lighter and more maneuverable. That means, Stephens said, that it will be faster and could be airlifted, giving the brigade combat team commander and the combatant commander greater options in the battlespace.

Since RCVs will be unmanned, that frees up a lot of space for direct and indirect fires capability, he said, along with a full suite of sensors and counter-unmanned aerial vehicle packages. An example of an indirect fire system, he said, is the 81mm mortar. Direct fire would be what an Abrams' main gun can deliver.

Existing sensors, like infrared ones, could double-down to not just detect the enemy's signature and dust but also the signature from biological and chemical weapons, he said.

Unmanned vehicles would also afford force protection and increased standoff distance, he said, meaning staying out of reach of enemy fire.

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