Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Wonder Tank Will Not Be Built

The Army has been unhappy that the need for lethality and protection has increased the weight of armored vehicles dramatically since we first started using them nearly a century ago.

While the quest for the wonder tank that is lethal, survivable, and light (for strategic movement) continues, the Army has split the research path for a vehicle that emphasizes lightness and one that must have lethality and survivability with the goal of being lighter:

The Army has given up, at least for now, on trying to build a lighter tank, but it is hoping to develop a replacement for the Bradley under a program called the Future Fighting Vehicle, according to Lt. Gen. Michael E. Williamson, principal military deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. “If you took a look at what we were going to do with the Ground Combat Vehicle, we were looking to leverage some of the things we learned during the Future Combat System,” Williamson said. “So what we’re going to do over the next two years is we’re going to look at whether there are exciting new technologies that have the ability to mature very quickly to get a TRL, technology readiness level, that’s acceptable. And that’s what we want to incorporate into the Future Fighting Vehicle.” ...

Yet airborne forces want their old Sheridans back:

A perhaps more achievable effort is underway at the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga. Called the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) program, it is “an effort to provide a capability back into the airborne combat team, principally to support forcible entry operations,” said Michael N. Smith, the science and technology advocate from the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, who is working on the project.

Yet the Holy Grail is not easily given up:

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), after trying to stimulate industry’s interest in developing revolutionary protective technology in its Armor Challenge, has started a bolder effort to shrink the size and weight of tanks: the Ground X-Vehicle Technology (GXV-T) program. Because improvements in anti-armor technology are coming faster than those in armor protection, DARPA is seeking a tank designed for extreme maneuverability.

“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,” DARPA Program Manager Kevin Massey said in an August 2014 news release. “We plan to pursue groundbreaking fundamental research and development to help make future armored fighting vehicles significantly more mobile, effective, safe and affordable.”

The release said the program seeks technologies that reduce the focus on armor with the goal of making tanks 50 percent smaller with crews half the present number, able to move at twice the current speed, capable of operating over 95 percent of the terrain, and harder to detect and engage. DARPA said it hopes to see the technologies emerge in two years.

Substituting speed, greater “situational awareness,” and lower infrared and electromagnetic detection for classic thick armor is very similar to what FCS sought in vain.

I remain skeptical that not being hit (which includes hitting potential shooters first) is a substitute for passive armor.

I wouldn't count on active defense measures to replace passive (but heavy) armor, either.

As I wrote in Military Review 13 years ago (see "Equipping the Objective Force"), trying to make a single vehicle that does everything, including being airlifted by a C-130, isn't going to happen.

The wonder tank will not be built this time, either.