The Army on Tuesday released a development plan for its future robotic combat vehicle (RCV), with officials looking to rigorously test autonomous capabilities and prototype offerings to set up a fiscal year 2023 decision on acquisition and production timelines.

RCV is expected to include three variants, with officials aiming to set a program of record for a light robot vehicle in FY ’20 and the medium and heavy variants by FY ’21.

2018 demo of an autonomous combat vehicle as part of a DARPA’s off-road autonomy program to support the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) Autonomous Ground Resupply Mission. (Courtesy Photo: National Robotic Engineering Center)

“The U.S. Army requires a plan that coordinates efforts across DoD, Academia, and Industry, synchronizes S&T and prototyping efforts, and uses Soldier feedback as the primary data point to define the requirements to develop an unmanned ground combat system that is capable of defeating a peer competitor maneuver force of equal or lesser size in any operating environment,” Army officials wrote in the RCV campaign plan.

Army officials are looking to industry to provide insight on current AI and autonomous capabilities required to potentially field RCVs by the mid-2020s, with a plan to use extensive testing to inform requirements.

“The maturity of both AI, assured network and autonomy, when integrated into onboard RCV systems, will provide commanders with a decisive advantage against tier 1 threats in FY ’23,” officials wrote. “Funding will not remain constant thus requiring our plan to maintain a high degree of flexibility.”

Current requirements for RCV include AI-enabled lethality, manned-unmanned teaming capabilities, cyber and electromagnetic activities and expanded robotic warfighter functions.

For the light variant, RCV (L), the Army will test a surrogate vehicle at a EUCOM demonstration in 2020 and use the findings to determine if senior leadership can proceed to a milestone B decision in the third quarter of FY ’20.

Officials in the program plan said if the results of the demonstration are underwhelming, funding will be moved from RCV (L) to the medium and heavy variants.

The medium and heavy variants, RCV (M) and (H), are expected to receive programs of record in FY ’21. Timeline decisions will be determined by findings on whether RCV-equipped formations would be more lethal than a purely manned formation.

The Army will prioritize resources for RCV (M) if the funding line is ultimately reduced for the larger program, according to the campaign plan.

Before the Army looks to introduce robotic vehicles into formations, Army officials are looking to determine if such a platform would be capable of matching a peer competitors maneuver force.

Officials are also asking industry to detail the level of available autonomous technologies, the necessary sensor package to realize an RCV and discern if current AI tools will meet requirements for target recognition.