Currently, several Pentagon structures and a number of commercial organizations are implementing the Robotic Combat Vehicle program. Its goal is to create three robotic systems of different weight classes with different capabilities. Not so long ago, field tests of the medium RTK began under the designation RCV-M. The main running and combat capabilities have already been shown.
Winner of competition
Last year, the Pentagon, represented by the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team (NGCV CFT) and a number of other structures, conducted the first stage of the RCV program. Its purpose was to collect and analyze technical proposals from potential contractors, as well as comparative tests of prototypes. The Army then chose the most interesting project in each of the categories.
The most successful variant of the medium-sized RTK was considered a project from Textron Systems and Howe & Howe Inc. called the Ripsaw M5. Based on the well-known Ripsaw lightweight tracked chassis, they have developed an autonomous and remote controlled platform suitable for mounting a variety of equipment, incl. combat module.
In the fall, Textron and Howe & Howe received an order for the production of four experimental RTKs of a new type to carry out all the necessary tests with the participation and under the supervision of the military. The delivery of this equipment was expected in April-May 2021.
In mid-February, contractors delivered the first RCV-M complex to the customer. At that time, the car was not fully completed, but its early transfer simplified the work on the creation and development of control systems. In the spring, the assembly of the prototype was completed and proceeded to preliminary tests.
In the following months, the contractors fabricated and handed over three more prototypes to NGCV CFT. The latter was handed over to the customer in early June. The next weeks were spent preparing for preliminary field tests.
In parallel with the construction of the experimental RCV-M, Textron and Howe & Howe were developing a new model. In July, they unveiled a fully electric modification of the Ripsaw M5 chassis. The M5-E product has a radically redesigned power plant, but retains the basic performance characteristics at the level of the basic diesel-electric chassis. In particular, it is possible to install various payloads, incl. combat modules. However, the prospects for the M5-E chassis in the context of the RCV program remain unknown.
At the test stage
The M5 chassis, converted into a carrier of a combat module or other payload, has previously passed the necessary tests and confirmed the calculated characteristics of mobility and carrying capacity. For this reason, at the new stage of testing, they started firing almost immediately.
Reportedly, the first RCV-M firing took place on July 30 at Fort Dix. A full-size open training ground was used, designed for tanks and other combat vehicles.
Due to remote control from the MET-D mobile command post, the experienced RTK RCV-M entered the firing line. Then, with the help of standard optical-electronic devices of the combat module, training targets were detected and attacked. Shooting was carried out from the 30-mm automatic cannon XM183 and 7, 62-mm machine gun M240. All targets were successfully hit.
During the firing tests, a full-fledged control and measuring complex was used. A set of sensors was present on the combat vehicle; high-speed video cameras and other devices were placed around it.Now the developers and NGCV CFT will have to study and evaluate the collected data and, if necessary, correct the identified shortcomings.
The tests of the RTK RCV-M will not end there. New tests of the chassis and combat module are coming, as well as their separate and joint work in different modes. It is necessary to study the possibilities for shooting from a standstill and in motion, to determine the potential of the chassis with other payloads, etc. All of these activities will continue until next year or beyond.
The current and future tests of the RTK program RCV with subsequent modifications to the equipment, if necessary, should be completed no later than spring 2022. Already in June, the Pentagon plans to start a new experiment, the purpose of which will be to test promising complexes in conditions as close as possible to full-fledged military operation and combat application. Such an event is designated as the Soldier Operational Experiment (SOE).
Over the next summer, at the Fort Hood base, experimental military operation of RCV-L, RCV-M and RCV-H complexes, MET-D command posts and other equipment will be organized with the involvement of military personnel from combat units. 18 vehicles of all models will be used in single communication circuits integrated with military control systems.
It is planned to work out the independent and group use of robots, as well as interaction with manned vehicles and infantry. In such conditions, the tasks of reconnaissance, combat, convoy escort, etc. will be solved. Real combat situations will be simulated, incl. providing shooting at targets.
During the SOE, it is planned to check the operation of the equipment in all expected situations, assess its real capabilities, and also formulate the best application methods. Based on the results of these and other experiments, the optimal appearance of the army's robotic units and their equipment, as well as governing documents and regulations, will gradually be formed.
The next full-scale SOE experiment, taking into account the accumulated experience, is planned to be carried out only in 2024. By this time, the RCV program will have to move to the stage of developing a technical project with an eye to mastering the series and introducing equipment to the troops. In 2023-25. the final versions of the RCV-L and RCV-M complexes should appear, after which their future will be determined.
Middle class robot
In the proposed form, the RTK Textron / Howe & Howe Ripsaw M5 or RCV-M is a tracked vehicle with the ability to set the reservation of the required level and a particular payload. A combat modification of the complex with a cannon-machine-gun combat module is currently being tested. A unified lightweight platform has also been developed.
The M5 is 6 m long and approx. 2, 7 m. The platform's own height, excluding the installed modules, is 1, 5 m. The estimated combat weight with a payload is 10, 5 tons. Of these, about 3, 6 tons are for the target equipment.
The M5 platform is equipped with a hybrid power plant based on a diesel engine, generator and batteries. The new M5-E project provides for the use of electrical systems only. A chassis with six rollers on three bogies was used, unified with the previous chassis of the Ripsaw series. The speed on the highway is at least 65 km / h and the ability to overcome various obstacles.
The RCV-M platform is equipped with a sophisticated set of surveillance, navigation and communication equipment, which provides control from the operator's console via a secure two-way radio channel. The composition of such equipment can be selected by the customer. Installation of additional cameras or lidars is possible. It is also proposed to place unmanned aerial vehicles and ground vehicles on the platform.
Currently, the RCV-M complex is being tested with a remotely controlled combat module carrying a 30-mm cannon and a 7.62-mm machine gun, as well as advanced optics and a fire control system.Compatibility with other modules carrying large-caliber machine guns or missiles for various purposes is also declared.
The M5 can serve as a vehicle - for this, the chassis has a flat roof for easy stowage. It is also possible to use it as an engineering armored vehicle. In this case, a dozer blade, a roller or knife trawl, an extended charge launch system, etc. are installed on the body.
The RCV-M and RCV-L complexes in the current tests are controlled using the MET-D mobile station. This machine is a serial BMP M2 Bradley, in the troop compartment of which are equipped with automated workstations for operators. The MET-D crew can simultaneously control multiple robots on the ground.
The M5 platform from Textron and Howe & Howe is a multipurpose robotic vehicle, on the basis of which complexes for various purposes can be built. Of all the possible options, only one has received serious development so far - a combat vehicle with cannon and machine gun armament. Recently it was brought to fire tests, and in the future, new checks of various kinds will take place, incl. complex, involving interaction with other equipment.
The distant future of the RCV program and the three existing RTKs from different developers is still unclear. The prospects of these projects directly depend on how the experienced equipment will show itself in current and future tests. At the same time, it is obvious that the Pentagon is showing great interest in ground combat and multipurpose robots, and this has already led to the start of a number of programs, incl. RCV.
Accordingly, the demonstration of good results during the next tests will allow the RCV-M and other new models to be developed and reach full-fledged operation in the troops. However, the completion of the work still takes several years, and during this time a lot can change.