The Army is looking to develop a new combat vehicle that incorporates s five key enabling technologies: a vehicle protection suite, directed energy and energetics, power management, advanced armor and robotics/autonomous systems.

The Army has established an integrated concept development team that is figuring out the requirements for the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV). The service expects to build two technology demonstrators by fiscal year 2022.

Major General Eric Wesley, commader of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, Ga. Photo: U.S. Army.
Major General Eric Wesley, commader of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, Ga. Photo: U.S. Army.

Previously, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley laid out the basics of new technologies the Army is looking at in a next generation vehicle (Defense Daily, July 27).

Maj. Gen. Eric Wesley, head of the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, Ga., speaking at the Association of the U.S. Army annual conference, explained the importance of the future multi-domain operating environment and the five core NGCV technologies.

The NGCV will potentially replace both the General Dynamics [GD] M1 Abrams tank and the BAE M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Wesley said the NGCV development process is focusing on exploiting the right technologies and sizing capabilities so it is “conceivable” that one final product can replace both vehicles.

Wesley said he is not suggesting any specific outcome because the Army does not want to “lead the jury” on vehicle style by naming it a next-generation tank or fighting vehicle.

Wesley highlighted that when preparing to find a near-peer adversary like China or Russia the battlespace includes cyber and irregular/hybrid threats, creating confusion before operations start. Drawing from Russia’s activities in Ukraine and Syria, this also includes a 360-degree non-contiguous battlefield paired with exceedingly lethal long-range persistent fires. These factors are directing the Army to reduce troop density and increase dispersion.

Wesley explained the military cannot afford to add another layer of protective steel to the Abrams because it will eventually be too heavy to move quickly. So new active protection systems (APS) that destroy rounds before they penetrate the vehicle helps reduce weight. He said there is significant investment here “but I would argue we’re a bit behind relative to our peers.”

This overlaps with advanced armor material solutions, where researchers are looking to reduce weight for the same level of protection, allowing for better mobility.

Directed energy, like laser weapons, is important because with sufficient energy the ammunition supply chain problem disappears. Wesley admitted the weapons’ maximum lethality may be limited in the near term, but they are still useful “in various forms.”

Energetics means the ability to increase energy density for kinetic weapons. Wesley said “we think that there is an ability to increase energy density just based on S&T work that we’re doing right now.” This could increase chamber pressure, which increases the velocity of a round, which increases energy into a target.

This would effectively lower the caliber of ammunition needed and miniaturize the size of a gun but achieve the same lethality.

On power generation, Wesley said fuel cell and hybrid-electric power capabilities will be more important as forces operate semi-independently with fuel transportation a liability.

He said while there are doubters on reducing energy consumption “there is also a lot of technology out there.” He cited the Tesla [TSLA] electric car manufacturer and future plans of Volvo and General Motors [GM] for electric vehicles.

“At some point the United States Army is going to do the same thing as Tesla,” Wesley said. 

Wesley said the Army thinks it can reduce fuel volume for an armored brigade combat team by 46,000 gallons/day for Abrams tanks if they currently used hybrid-electric engines. 

“We’re already looking at options to reduce fuel consumption in half,” he said.

Maneuvering robotics and autonomous systems transcends all of the other four technologies, he said.

By definition, if robots are operating without a human at risk, capability increases relative to weight. Robotics and autonomous systems include both semi and fully autonomous options along with optionally manned, tethered, and untethered configurations, he said.

“What will be unique about the next generation combat vehicle, it will be one that optimizes these … enabling technologies,” Wesley added.