The Future of Tanks: Ground X and Scout Specialist Vehicles

hybrid_IFVfleetAs armies continue to modernize, the challenge of creating new fighting vehicles that withstand the latest in battlefield conditions, and at the same time be more cost-effective, is a constant. And, as the latest announcements made by DARPA and General Dynamics over the course of the summer can attest, its been known to produce some pretty interesting and innovate design concepts.

Known as the Ground X-Vehicle Technology (or GXV-T for short) the aim of this DARPA-funded program is to develop a lighter, more agile successors to the tank. Whereas tanks in the past have always responded to the development of more and better anti-tank weapons with heavier more elaborate armor, the focus of the GXV-T will be on protection that does not result in yet another bigger, badder, and way more expensive tank.

MBT_muzzleBeginning in 1917, the development of the tank led to a revolution is modern warfare, which has led to an ongoing arms race ever since. In just the last half-century, the guns used to take out tanks have been joined by rockets, guided missiles, and high-tech rounds designed to penetrate the thickest steel. Tank designers have responded with composite armor, reactive armor, and even electric countermeasures to detonate warheads before they make contact.

The result of this is a spiral of larger weapons, leading to larger tanks, leading to larger weapons until the mainline tanks of today have become behemoths so large that they are difficult to deploy, very expensive and can only be used in certain environments. To prevent this, DARPA wants to not just produce a more advanced tank, but one that moves away from relying so heavily on armor for survival.

gxv-t-6The GXV-T is intended to pursue technologies that move away from armor with the goal of making tanks 50 percent smaller, with crews half their present size, able to move at double the present speed, make them capable of operating over 95 percent of the terrain, and make them harder to detect and engage. As Kevin Massey, DARPA program manager, explained:

GXV-T’s goal is not just to improve or replace one particular vehicle – it’s about breaking the ‘more armor’ paradigm and revolutionizing protection for all armored fighting vehicles. Inspired by how X-plane programs have improved aircraft capabilities over the past 60 years, we plan to pursue groundbreaking fundamental research and development to help make future armored fighting vehicles significantly more mobile, effective, safe and affordable.

What this amounts to is finding ways to build tanks that can move around the battlefield like off-road vehicles, can dodge incoming fire rather than taking it, reposition its armor to its most effective angle, provide the crews with full situational awareness similar to that afforded fighter pilots, and make them stealthy against both infrared and electromagnetic detection.

gxv-t-5To achieve this, DARPA is soliciting new concepts and new technologies for designers. As you can see from the concept art above, some ideas have already been floated, but they remain very much in the design stage for now. The agency says that it hopes to see new GVX-T technologies emerge two years after the first contracts – which are slated to be awarded in April next year – with the hopes that the new technologies can be fast-tracked into demonstrators.

Meanwhile, General Dynamics is busy producing what will amount to the next-generation of armored vehicles. As part of a contract with the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), the company has been contracted to deliver 589 light-armor Scout Specialist Vehicles (SV) to the Army between 2017 and 2024. The tracked, medium-weight armored vehicle is designed to provide state-of-the-art, best-in-class protection for its crews.

gd-british-army-tank-5The Scout SV is intended to fill an important role in the British Army’s Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability. The Scout comes in six variants based on a common platform with shared mobility, electronics, and survivability systems, has an open electronic architecture, a modular armor system, and places emphasis on the ability to upgrade in order to incorporate new technology and meet new threats.

The Scout variants include Reconnaissance, Protected Mobility Reconnaissance Support (PMRS), Command and Control, Engineering Reconnaissance, Repair, and Recovery. According to General Dynamics, these are designed to provide the basics of protection, survivability, reliability, mobility and all-weather ISTAR capabilities for a wide range of extended military operations at a reduced cost.

gd-british-army-tank-3The Scout’s main armament in its turret-mounted 40-mm cannon, but it also comes equipped with acoustic detectors, a laser warning system, a local situational awareness system, an electronic countermeasure system, a route-marking system, and a high-performance power pack. The announced contract also includes the provision of support and training by General Dynamics for the delivered vehicles.

The deal represents the single biggest contract for armored vehicles that the British Army has signed since the 1980s. It also comes on the eve of a NATO Summit, and at a time when Britain is contemplating the future of its forces as it prepares for future operations similar to what it experienced in Afghanistan and Iraq. In these cases, the warfare was unconventional and prolonged, requiring a whole set of strategies.

gd-british-army-tank-0As British Prime Minister David Cameron declared when speaking of the deal:

With the second largest defence budget in NATO, meeting NATO’s two per cent of GDP spending target and investing in new capabilities to deal with the emerging threats we are ensuring Britain’s national security, staying at the forefront of the global race and providing leadership within NATO.

As the saying goes: “necessity is the mother of invention”. Well, there is nothing more necessary in war than making machines that are practical, effective, and not cost the taxpayers an arm and a leg. Between dwindling budgets, improved technology, and the fact that future operations are likely to take place in war-torn and impoverished areas, the race to build a weapon-system that can handle it all is sure to be both interesting and productive!

Sources: gizmag.com, (2)

The Future is Here: Predator Drones and UAV’s!


There’s been quite a bit of talk and controversy lately with regard to a new piece of military technology. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAV’s, have been taking to the air in the last few years and assisting with military operations in a number of theaters. As a result, people have been both condemning and hailing the new technology, citing the details of its limited service record to make their point. To some, its all part of the larger effort to “unman the front lines” as a way to save lives. To others, its an attempt to impose military force on others without having to risk the lives of our own soldiers.

I thought it was high time I weigh in on this issue since I’ve been doing some research on it lately. In order to write decent fiction about high-tech surveillance, and to understand the paranoia (justified or not) surrounding these vehicles, some not-so-light reading seemed in order.

To break it down succinctly, the Predator UAV (or drone), the one which has been generating all the headlines, is a turboprop aircraft (not a jet) that is unmanned and controlled remotely.This can be done from a military base several kilometers away, or in the field by a controller using a remote box similar to a large laptop. Pretty sci-fi!

A typical MQ-9 is capable of monitoring a 360 area beneath it using its Lynx synthetic aperture radar and mobile Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) camera. Using these, operators are able to spot enemy troops and vehicles and then deploy the drones’ ordinance, which usually consists of up to 14 Hellfire missiles. These missiles made their big debut in the Gulf War where they popularized for their use in destroy Iraqi tanks, usually by Apache attack choppers.

But of course, there are UAV’s beyond the MQ-9 Predator that are rarely talked about. For instance, there are unarmed military craft that are used strictly for surveillance and aerial reconnaissance.

Within the private sector, there are aerial drones who’s job it is to explore for deposits of oil, gas and minerals over large areas of terrain. Government and private agencies also used them to monitor livestock, keep track of wildfires, conduct scientific research, as well as for road surveillance and anti-piracy coastal patrols.

In these cases, smaller and less intimidating craft are used, most of which are about the size of a full-grown terrier. In other cases, they can be about the size of a remote controlled helicopter, and often involve the exact same technology!

Love it or hate it, UAV technology appears to be the way of the future for the modern armed forces, as intrinsic to the air force as Future Soldier is to the infantry. Designed to tackle missions that fall into the category of the 3D’s – dirty, dull, or dangerous – and provide close air support, the militarized version is really no different than any other piece of military hardware. It’s purpose is to give its side an edge and prevent the loss of friendly lives. Anything else is just window dressing!

Hellfire missile

Some people naturally fear this, because if history has taught us anything it’s that the Pentagon means business when it comes to public support. The experiences of Vietnam and the Gulf War were both instructive experiences which taught them much about the role of the media. By the time of Afghanistan and the Iraq War, they had their strategy worked out with embedded reporters.

However, this did not prevent Iraq – and slowly, Afghanistan – from becoming unpopular when the hoped-for results didn’t come, mistakes piled up and the crisis kept deepening. As a result, the same tactics that were taken in Vietnam – stepped-up recruitment, glossing over civilian deaths, and scare campaigns – were used to try to keep people on side.

Seen in this light, these attempts to “unman” the front lines are merely more of the same from an institution that wants to make war palatable to the masses so they can go on fighting them. On the one hand, this might seem like an obvious goal since no military can do its job without popular support. On the other, it can be seen as an agenda by the US military-industrial complex to ensure it can keep protecting its interests without being hampered by conscientious objections or outrage.

I guess in the end we all have to decide for ourselves what we think of all this. In the meantime, I urge everyone to learn more about UAV technology and its various uses. And while you’re at it, check out this video clip form a few years back. It’s quite good.