A new research program aims to get the next-generation ground combat vehicle off the drawing board.
And if the drawings of it by an Army civilian are any indication, future soldiers could be riding in a lightweight, agile, easy-to-deploy platform ripped straight from the pages of a graphic novel.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced the launch of the Ground X-Vehicle Technology program last month, but in May, a report called "GXV Operational Vignettes" went out from the Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center. It includes more than two dozen pages of drawings from James Scott, with TARDEC's advanced concepts team, offering views of a possible GXV design in a variety of scenarios:
■Swiveling its turret after somehow "sensing" an enemy sniper, then dispatching most of the building that housed the sniper.
■Descending into the war zone via airdrop — eight stored in a single C-17 — and transporting up to 96 soldiers over uneven terrain and through urban environments thanks in part to four independent tracks that can maneuver like wheels.
■Deflecting incoming ordnance with "movable armor" and stopping a rocket-propelled grenade in midair via an unnamed weapons system.
A TARDEC spokesman confirmed the drawings were part of the Army's contribution to the DARPA effort and referred all questions to DARPA. A DARPA public affairs contact for the program, who did not wish to be named, said in an email that all available information about GXV-T is on the DARPA website.
Sept. 5 marked a Proposers Day event for the program in DARPA's offices outside Washington, D.C., which was attended by Paul Decker, TARDEC's deputy program manager for GXV.
The event served to educate possible stakeholders in the project's requirements, according to a DARPA news release. Those include producing a vehicle that's 50 percent smaller and lighter than "today's armored fighting vehicles" and requires half the crew; is twice as fast; can access 95 percent of terrain and has "reduced signatures that enable adversaries to detect and engage vehicles."
That last part may have led to media reports touting the military's new "stealth tank," but beyond reducing detectability, DARPA officials hope to make the vehicle stronger by making sure it can identify and avoid enemy attacks.
"It's about breaking the 'more armor' paradigm," Kevin Massey, DARPA program manager, said in the release. "We plan to pursue groundbreaking fundamental research and development to help make future armored fighting vehicles significantly more mobile, effective, safe and affordable."
It's too early to say what vehicles the GXV might replace, if any, when it would reach even the earliest stages of production, or even whether the designs will resemble the final product — DARPA-generated concept art includes a vehicle with large wheels instead of tracks, for example.
TARDEC, which provides the technological backbone for all Army and Marine ground vehicles, would continue its involvement with the project long past the sketch stages, though DARPA will be in charge of the initial contract awards, which are planned for April 2015 or sooner, according to the news release.