The U.S. Army has tapped contractors to begin building a possible fleet of robotic fighting vehicles.
The Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command plans to award a contract to QinetiQ North America to build four Robotic Combat Vehicle-Light prototypes and another contract to Textron to build four Robotic Combat Vehicle-Medium prototypes, all for initial tests that will take place in late 2021.
The Army also wants a bigger, more powerful Robotic Combat Vehicle-Heavy, but the service doesn’t plan to begin testing the larger vehicle until 2023.
After testing the armed robots, the Army plans to make a decision about wider development of the vehicle for front-line use.
The RCV contracts came earlier than many observers expected. This reflects the Army’s rapid progress on the robotic-vehicle programs.
“There’s a lot of excitement in industry, in the Army, and we’ve seen industry ahead of our timeline a little bit,” Brig. Gen. Richard Ross Coffman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team, told Breaking Defense reporter Sydney Freedberg, Jr. “We are adjusting our expectations.”
After reviewing the unmanned ground vehicle demonstrators that companies are developing for various Army requirements, Coffman told Freedberg he was impressed by the levels of autonomy and modularity.
“Overall, the robots are about two years more sophisticated than expected,” Freedberg wrote, citing Coffman. “Capabilities the service expected in 2023 are now potentially achievable in 2021.”
Between 2020 and 2023 the Army hopes to test all three classes of RCV. The RCV-Light should weigh around 10 tons and come armed with machine guns or rockets in the class of the Javelin anti-tank missile.
The RCV-Medium should weigh around 12 tons and carry a 30-millimeter cannon or similar weapons, essentially matching the armament of a manned M-2 infantry fighting vehicle.