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.DARPA

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:

GXV-T seeks to investigate revolutionary ground-vehicle technologies that would simultaneously improve the mobility and survivability of vehicles through means other than adding more armor, including avoiding detection, engagement and hits by adversaries. This improved mobility and warfighting capability would enable future U.S. ground forces to more efficiently and cost-effectively tackle varied and unpredictable combat situations.

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.DARPA