DARPA Thinks Less Armor Could Make Tanks Safer

The new objective is to not get hit

DARPA’s Ground X-Vehicle Technology Program

More protective layers of jargon = safer future tanks.

The heavy, treaded, gun-swinging battlefield behemoths know as tanks haven’t changed much since their invention a century ago. Using a crapload of armor, the tank is meant to keep soldiers inside safe from bullets and other projectiles, while shooting a cannon at anything that poses a threat. But the problem with all this armor is that it makes vehicles slow and therefore more vulnerable. DARPA wants to change that. Their new Ground X-Vehicle Technology (GXV-T) initiative aims to get vehicles beyond armor, figuring out new ways to keep the people inside safe without sacrificing mobility.

Here’s how DARPA describes the project’s broader aim:

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because the Army had similar goals with an expansive vehicle project in 1999. “Future Combat Systems” was a major vehicle design program, aimed at created 18 vehicles and a network that tied them all together. Ambitious in scope, it was ultimately canceled a decade later. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where troops faced deadly IEDs that tore apart fast, lightly armored vehicles, made a whole vehicle system built around that concept untenable.

The idea that lighter, more mobile vehicles are better for the future of war persists. GXV-T is an attempt to explore that concept, not in a sweeping 18 vehicle system, but with smaller, simpler prototypes. DARPA is assembling interested groups in Arlington, Virginia, for a Proposers’ Day on September 5th. Afterwards, teams will develop technologies over the next 24 months designed to meet some or all DARPA’s GXV-T objectives:

  • Reduce vehicle size and weight by 50 percent
  • Reduce onboard crew needed to operate vehicle by 50 percent
  • Increase vehicle speed by 100 percent
  • Access 95 percent of terrain
  • Reduce signatures that enable adversaries to detect and engage vehicles

What might such a vehicle look like? Here’s DARPA’s concept art about possible GXV-T entries:

GXV-T Concept Art

The future of tanks is apparently robot dune buggies.
Kelsey D. Atherton
Kelsey D. Atherton

Kelsey D. Atherton is a defense technology journalist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work on drones, lethal AI, and nuclear weapons has appeared in Slate, The New York Times, Foreign Policy, and elsewhere.