The Army Is Forming a Whole Family of Armed Robot Tanks

Kyle Mizokami
·3-min read

From Popular Mechanics

The U.S. Army, after years of experimentation, is planning to roll out an entire family of uncrewed combat vehicles to boost the firepower of infantry and armored brigade combat teams.

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The Army, Breaking Defense explains, will operate Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCVs) in three size classes, with varying degrees of lethality: light, medium, and heavy. RCVs will shoot at the enemy, jam unfriendly communications, lay smokescreens in front of friendly troops, and perform other dangerous tasks, sparing soldiers the need to go into harm’s way.

The smallest vehicle, RCV-Light (RCV-L), will be a wheeled vehicle weighing less than 10 tons, as seen above. The Army specifies a maximum length of 222 inches, making it a foot shorter than a Ford Expedition. RCV-L will be transportable by helicopter. It would be, as one Army slide accompanying the Breaking Defense article shows, armed with a light, but potent weapon such as a Javelin anti-tank missile launcher. RCV-L will be “attritable,” meaning the Army will expect to lose them during combat.

Photo credit: Textron
Photo credit: Textron

The next size up is RCV-Medium (RCV-M), which will be slightly longer and wider than its smaller sibling, and transportable in a C-130J Super Hercules transport. Despite the similarity in dimensions, RCV-M will be up to twice as heavy, in order to accommodate heavier weapons, armor, and a tank-like track-laying mechanism.

RCV-M will be equipped with a medium cannon, likely in the 30- to 40-millimeter range, or multiple anti-tank guided missiles. The Army would be a little more concerned about losing RCV-Ms in combat, as they're bigger, more sophisticated, and more expensive.

Finally, we come to Robotic Combat Vehicle-Heavy (RCV-H), which is essentially a main battle tank with the crew stripped out. At up to 30 tons, RCV-H will be considerably bigger than the other two vehicles. It will be so large that only two will fit in a C-17 Globemaster III long-range transport.

RCV-H will be armed with a large-caliber, direct-fire gun, capable of defeating “all Tier 1 threats,” or threat tanks such as the Chinese Type 99 and Russian T-14 Armata main battle tanks. RCV-H will be the most expensive of all, and what the Army calls a “non-expendable system.”

Photo credit: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND - Getty Images
Photo credit: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND - Getty Images

Ground-based robotic vehicles proved tougher to develop than air- and sea-based robotic vehicles. Unlike air- and sea-based vehicles, which can easily detect obstacles in their path at great ranges, the limited perspective of ground-based sensors makes ground-based robotic vehicles less aware of their surroundings.

While air- and sea-based vehicles can fly or glide around obstacles, ground vehicles must plan a careful route around rough terrain ahead of time or push through. Ground vehicles must also contend with varying types of terrain, including desert sands, dense forests, steep hillsides, and manmade objects, and rivers.

The Army is planning to arm its RCVs, but not all of the tasks soldiers want the robots to handle require weapons. Feedback from real soldiers indicates the grunts want RCVs that can shoot down drones, lay smoke screens, locate and mark minefields, and deal with chemical, radiological, biological, and nuclear threats.

Robots have arrived to take on all the Army’s most dangerous, unpleasant, and boring tasks, and you can bet the average soldier is here for it.

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