Tag Archives: NGCV CFT

Robotic combat vehicle

Army engineers evaluated methods to improve the radio performance of Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCVs) during a field-based experiment.

Humvee’s sit on an airfield in preparation for a radio test during the Platoon Attack Experiment, May 3, 2021, on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. The experiment focused on protected communications for tele-operating robotic combat vehicles under the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team’s (NGCV CFT) Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) effort, which combines Soldiers, manned and unmanned air and ground vehicles, robotics and sensors to increase situational understanding, lethality and resiliency (Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Jake Carter)

The experiment focused on protected communications for tele-operating robotic combat vehicles under the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team’s (NGCV CFT) Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) effort, which combines Soldiers, manned and unmanned air and ground vehicles, robotics and sensors to increase situational understanding, lethality and resiliency.

Radios will play a key component in the Optionally-Manned Fighting Vehicle’s ability to remotely control and maneuver RCVs in urban environments and varied terrain, noted Archie Kujawski, a network architect with the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center – a component of Army Futures Command’s Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM).

«In previous years, we did a campaign of learning to evolve modeling and simulation and lab-based risk reduction events, but the rubber hits the road when you can come out to a field environment and validate modeling and simulation as well as lab results», Kujawski said.

C5ISR Center engineers mounted radios onto multiple on-the-move vehicles to assess robustness and capacity in urban, open and wooded terrain, and resiliency during simulated electronic warfare attacks. Additionally, they explored system enhancements that increased signal strength and electronic protection.

«We also assessed the radio systems using a vendor-sourced antenna which demonstrated the value of employing directional antennas to amplify our signals in the direction of friendly forces and to block enemy jammers’ effects, ensuring continuous operations across the objective», said Doctor Michael Brownfield, the C5ISR Center’s Future Capabilities chief.

Brownfield noted the Army’s network currently uses Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output (MIMO) radios as a mid-tier transport to enable command post dispersion and to share common-operation-picture data with mobile maneuver forces. C5ISR Center engineers were able to simulate this setup by placing the technologies in a «highly dynamic, mobile environment».

«The data we’re collecting will enable us to better understand how the stressed, contested and congested network will meet a multitude of emerging Army expeditionary mission requirements», said Brownfield, who noted the findings will support network design for Capability Sets 23 and 25.

The effort is a continuation in a series of experiments conducted by the NGCV CFT and DEVCOM’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC), to assess the effectiveness of RCV platforms at the platoon level and higher. The network-focused experiment will help to refine system requirements, reduce risk to performance and identify spectrum demands leading up to the MUM-T Phase II Soldier Operational Experiment (SOE II), at Fort Hood, Texas, in fiscal year 2022.

«We’re trying to determine how much bandwidth we can allocate to each one of our sections and then build those sections up to platoons, so this experiment is absolutely critical for us. It is one of our key enablers and proof of principle, ensuring we have enough technical data and validity around our concepts, so we know it is reasonable and fieldable», said Christopher Ostrowski, associate director of experimental prototyping for DEVCOM GVSC.

Ostrowski said GVSC’s partnership with the C5ISR Center is a great example of «what DEVCOM does for the Army, and especially for the CFTs and our PEO colleagues».

«It’s a whole-enterprise, holistic approach to capability development from initial concept to transition to the acquisition system, and it gives our warfighters unparalleled capability that they can rely upon».

MUM-T modernizes the Army’s current fleet of vehicles to include the ability to control unmanned RCVs. The capability will positively impact Army survivability, providing Soldiers standoff to reduce the risk of casualties, allowing maneuver commanders the time and space to make critical decisions and potentially increasing the number and diversity of multi-mission payloads employed on the battlefield, said Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Orlowski, product manager for Robotic Combat Vehicles under Program Executive Office Ground Combat Systems (PEO GCS).

«We don’t want Soldiers on a manned system to make contact with the enemy first. We want RCVs to make contact with the enemy first, and radio performance is critical to enabling CVs to do so», Orlowski said. «If we can make contact with robots forward first, whether those are air or ground robots, then we can provide commanders time and space to make decisions».

C5ISR Center resources have played a key role in helping the NGCV CFT develop a communication backbone to control RCVs that is «secure, reliable and resilient while able to support operations at relevant distances in the future environment», said Colonel Warren Sponsler, NGCV CFT’s chief of staff.

«A priority for AFC and the NGCV CFT has been to conduct experimentation and Solider touchpoints as often as we can. This allows us to learn early, learn fast and be willing to fail fast. If things don’t work, we make adjustments as needed and continue the momentum forward», Sponsler said. «We’ve been able to really capitalize on great work and partnership with the C5ISR Center. It has helped increase our warfighters’ ability to see the enemy first, make decisions faster and then execute lethal operations».

As a follow-on to the experiment, C5ISR Center engineers are working to integrate the radios tested onto vehicles in preparation for a safety release later this year in support of the SOE II event. Lessons learned from the experiment will also help support execution for Project Convergence 21.

Upgraded Bradley

Soldiers are slated to fire at targets next year using a platoon of robotic combat vehicles they will control from the back of modified Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

An upgraded Bradley Fighting Vehicle, called a Mission Enabler Technologies-Demonstrator, (left) and a robotic M113 surrogate platform. Soldiers are slated to test two MET-Ds and four RCVs for the first time next year (U.S. Army photo)

The monthlong operational test is scheduled to begin in March at Fort Carson, Colorado, and will provide input to the Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center on where to go next with autonomous vehicles.

The upgraded Bradleys, called Mission Enabler Technologies-Demonstrators, or MET-Ds, have cutting-edge features such as a remote turret for the 25-mm main gun, 360-degree situational awareness cameras and enhanced crew stations with touchscreens.

Initial testing will include two MET-Ds and four robotic combat vehicles on M113 surrogate platforms. Each MET-D will have a driver and gunner as well as four Soldiers in its rear, who will conduct platoon-level maneuvers with two surrogate vehicles that fire 7.62-mm machine guns.

«We’ve never had Soldiers operate MET-Ds before», said David Centeno Jr., chief of the center’s Emerging Capabilities Office. «We’re asking them to utilize the vehicles in a way that’s never been done before».

After the tests, the center and Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team (NGCV CFT), both part of Army Futures Command, will then use Soldier feedback to improve the vehicles for future test phases.

«You learn a lot», Centeno said at the International Armored Vehicles USA conference on June 26. «You learn how they use it. They may end up using it in ways we never even thought of».

The vehicles are experimental prototypes and are not meant to be fielded, but could influence other programs of record by demonstrating technology derived from ongoing development efforts.

«This technology is not only to remain in the Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV) portfolio, but also legacy efforts as well», said Major Cory Wallace, robotic combat vehicle lead for the NGCV CFT.

One goal for the autonomous vehicles is to discover how to penetrate an adversary’s anti-access/aerial denial capabilities without putting Soldiers in danger.

The vehicles, Centeno said, will eventually have third-generation forward-looking infrared kits with a target range of at least 14 kilometers/8.7 miles.

«You’re exposing forces to enemy fire, whether that be artillery, direct fire», he said. «So, we have to find ways to penetrate that bubble, attrite their systems and allow for freedom of air and ground maneuver. These platforms buy us some of that, by giving us standoff».



In late fiscal year 2021, Soldiers will again play a role in Phase II testing as the vehicles conduct company-level maneuvers.

This time, experiments are slated to incorporate six MET-Ds and the same four M113 surrogates, in addition to four light and four medium surrogate robotic combat vehicles, which industry will provide.

Before these tests, a light infantry unit plans to experiment with the RCV light surrogate vehicles in Eastern Europe next May.

«The intent of this is to see how an RCV light integrates into a light infantry formation and performs reconnaissance and security tasks as well as supports dismounted infantry operations», Wallace said at the conference.

Soldier testing for Phase III is slated to take place mid-fiscal 2023 with the same number of MET-Ds and M113 surrogate vehicles, but will instead have four medium and four heavy purpose-built RCVs.

«This is the first demonstration which we will be out of the surrogate realm and fielding purpose builts», Wallace said, adding the vehicles will conduct a combined arms breach.

The major said he was impressed with how quickly Soldiers learned to control the RCVs during the Robotic Combined Arms Breach Demonstration in May at the Yakima Training Center in Washington.

«Soldiers have demonstrated an intuitive ability to master controlling RCVs much faster than what we thought», he said. «The feedback from the Soldiers was that after two days they felt comfortable operating the system».

There are still ongoing efforts to offload some tasks in operating RVCs to artificial intelligence in order to reduce the cognitive burden on Soldiers.

«This is not how we’re used to fighting», Centeno said. «We’re asking a lot. We’re putting a lot of sensors, putting a lot of data in the hands of Soldiers. We want to see how that impacts them. We want to see how it degrades or increases their performance».

The family of RCVs include three variants. Army officials envision the light version to be transportable by rotary wing. The medium variant would be able to fit onto a C-130 Hercules aircraft, and the heavy variant would fit onto a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.

Both future and legacy armored platforms, such as the forthcoming Mobile Protected Firepower «light tank», could influence the development of the RCV heavy.

With no human operators inside it, the heavy RCV can provide the lethality associated with armored combat vehicles in a much smaller form. Plainly speaking, without a crew, the RCV heavy requires less armor and can dedicate space and power to support modular mission payloads or hybrid electric drive batteries, Wallace said.

Ultimately, the autonomous vehicles will aim to keep Soldiers safe.

«An RCV reduces risk», Wallace said. «It does so by expanding the geometry of the battlefield so that before the threat makes contact with the first human element, it has to make contact with the robots. That, in turn, gives commanders additional space and time to make decisions».