Next-Generation Combat Vehicles “all about the soldier”: US General

Harry Lye 30 January 2020 (Last Updated July 8th, 2020 15:59)

US Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) Cross-Functional Team (CFT) director Brigadier General Ross Coffman recently gave an update on the US Army’s plan to replace several vehicles, why they chose to reset the OMFV programme and putting the soldier first.

Next-Generation Combat Vehicles “all about the soldier”: US General
A soldier guides a M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle during an exercise at Novo Selo Training Area, Bulgaria, in 2018. Credit: Sgt Jamar Marcel Pugh.

Speaking at Defence IQ’s recent International Armoured Vehicles (IAV) 2020, Brigadier General Ross Coffman made clear that despite heading up the NGCV programme CFT, ‘vehicles’ were not his priority when it comes to upgrading and enhancing the capabilities of the US land fleet, but rather that the aim of the programme was about giving the warfighters access to the best equipment possible.

Coffman said: “Nothing we’re doing is about vehicles, it has nothing to do with vehicles. On my hierarchy, vehicles come really come right after this person. It is all about the soldier.”

Emphasising, this Coffman tapped into the aims of the wider industry and defence market saying: “That’s what we’re all about industry, academia, the military, the acquisition, the requirements, it’s all about the soldier. And if we keep that in mind that this business becomes fairly simple. It’s getting the best equipment as fast as possible – as long as the budget allows – into his or her hands because the enemy is real.”

In his role, Coffman oversees high-profile programmes to deliver new equipment into the hands of US personnel, including the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle programme to replace the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), the Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV) designed reduce risk to soldiers, the Mobile Protected Firepower project to fill a US Army capability gap in clearing obstructions between personnel and objectives, and the Armoured Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) programme to replace the in-service M113, among others.

Updating the audience on the programmes, and the work of the NGCV programme, Coffman said that the US Army’s aim was not to upgrade to match the capabilities of adversaries but rather to ‘upgrade to overmatch’ and continue the US Army’s dominance in the land domain while ensuring soldiers received the equipment they needed.

“Start anew” on Bradley replacement

The OMFV programme in its current iteration was recently shelved by the US Army to re-evaluate the requirements of the project, after last year the contract was left with just one bidder, General Dynamics following the disqualification of a joint Raytheon-Rheinmettal team.

Earlier in the year, BAE Systems had also pulled out of the programme, it had offered the CV90 vehicle to the US Army but dropped out in June 2019.

The news of the revised programme was released a week before the conference where Coffman was speaking, with the US Army at the time saying it was looking to revisit “the requirements, acquisition strategy and schedule” of the OMFV programme.

Speaking about the decision to revise the OMFV programme Coffman said: “Bottom line is we made a decision as an army to not cancel the programme, but start anew, and it’s different. Army Futures Command is committed to doing things differently.

“We’ve spent a lot of money in 15 years to get to the point of the decision we made last week. We want to do things differently. We don’t want to continue pouring money down a hole only to find out on the backside that we’re not getting what we want for our soldiers.”

Coffman went on to say: “So for very little money and very little time, the army senior leadership made a decision to stop, go back, and relook from top to bottom the requirements, acquisition strategy, timing, money, and start anew.”

The aim of the contract now is to return a healthy level of competition to ensure that a workable, affordable solution is delivered that meets the yet-to-be-decided new requirements for the vehicle.

The ultimate goal is to deliver an optionally-manned vehicle – controlled either by a human operator or remotely – to manoeuvre dismounted infantry across the battlefield to, as Coffman described it, deliver ‘fresh legs’ to the fight.

The US Army aims for the selected vehicle to be able to maintain pace with the Abrams tank and have the firepower to engage and destroy adversaries IFVs and tanks.

Robotic Combat Vehicle updates

The medium-weight Robotic Combat Vehicle is based on Textron’s Ripsaw M5. Credits: Textron.

The RCV programme aims to deliver robotic vehicles to the US Army in three different weight categories; light, which is around five to seven tonnes, medium at around ten tonnes, and heavy which will be up to 20 tonnes. Throughout all the variants the Army wants the vehicles to be payload-agnostic, giving them the capability to carry a range of different mission packages depending on the environment they face.

The army recently awarded contracts to Textron and QinetiQ to build four RCVs respectively. So far the awarded contracts cover the light and medium weight categories; the first lot of platforms will be used to inform and develop how to conduct operations with the assistance of robots at a company level and then transfer the lessons learned into concepts to employ at a brigade size.

Talking about the vehicles, Coffman said that the army planned to “determine through experimentation” the best way to employ RCVs into the US’s land forces and operations.

Coffman said of the programme: “There’s a lot of discussions today about what will robots do? What can they do on the battlefield? What can they not do? How many people does it take to operate? For me, it’s very simple. The robot may not save you soldiers, but it reduces the risk to the soldiers that we love.

“It reduces risk on the battlefield in those really nasty places like crossing a wet gap crossing, combined arms breach, the lead into a city – reducing that risk”

The idea for the robots is to have them operate several kilometres in front of a vehicle or infantry formation to detect and engage the enemy force before human personnel are engaged. The idea is that if a robot engages first, the risk is reduced and soldiers and manned vehicles have more time to figure out a plan of action when then advancing into contact with the enemy.

Coffman explained this best saying: “We find the riskiest places on Earth, and we put robots there.”