06 September 2014

The Motorpool: The DARPA Ground X Vehicle: the Future of the US Army's Tank?

What is the future of the almighty tank is a question is now asked more and more by the military than science fiction creators. During the 1980's, most military planners believe that the MBTs of the 21st century would be rolling with Gauss or EM Rail cannons that were to counter the Warsaw Pact's numerical advantage with heavy hitting kinetic systems. That future of the tank changed with after the fall of Communism and the era of global terrorism. It seemed that 1991 Gulf War was one of the last moments of battlefield glory for the big, expensive main battle tank. With the current operations in Afghanistan and Iraq that tested the limits and abilities of modern tanks, military organizations are looking to pare down the MBT to a more mission flexible smaller vehicle, like the current Stryker. On August 27th, the US Pentagon released an "graphic novel" on DARPA's "Ground Experiment Vehicle" or GXV, showing the direction that US military maybe taking with the future of tank design under the umbra of the Ground Experiment Vehicle Technology program. The real question is will this work? Will the GXV be an adequate replacement for the modern day main battle tank (MBT)?

What is the GXV? Sounds like a Subaru Crossover
The Ground eXperiment Vehicle is a test study of what DARPA and her collaborators think that the current MBT needs to evolve to in order to to be effective on the future battlefield. DARPA is envisioning an smaller, lighter tank with less armor, a great deal more technology, better maneuverability and half the crew to deal with all types of terrain conditions. The goals set by DARPA for the GXV-T project were: 50% of weight reduction over the current M-1 Abrams MBT, reducing the crew from four to two, increase speed by 100%, from 40 MPH to 80 MPH, able to traverse 95% of terrain types, and decrease the detectability to enemy surveillance equipment. Smaller. Lighter. Faster. Then there is cheaper aspect, the GXV will cost less than the current M-1 Abrams or even the Stryker. In April of 2015, DARPA will be issuing contracts for prototype military armored vehicles using the GXVT project outlines and abilities. It will years before we will see what the reality of the GXV will be.

The Abilities of the GXV
DARPA has high hopes for the GXV-T project to take advantage of certain technological abilities that are unable to be used on conventional tanks and armored vehicles. Given its smaller size, the GVX is designed to avoid detection, and using cover that is more organic to an foot soldier than a big armored vehicle. In urban environments, the GXV can hid behind cars via the lower of suspension, and use roads that the big tanks cannot. In natural settings, the GXV is might to use rocks and other natural coverings to avoid being seeing and hit. This also allows for the GXV to avoid being seen by enemy units, allowing this new armored vehicle to pick its battles. Another ability is for the GXV to be a mobile heavy weapon platform that could operate in big cities with infantry and UGVs in support. Plus, more GXVs could be airlifted into the battlefield more easily than current armored vehicles. This would allow the GXV to be sent more rapidly to distant battlefields and hotspots and in greater numbers than current tanks.

Is the GXV-T DARPA Project An Replacement for the MBT?
Simply put, no. Websites that are covering the GXV have stated that it is lighter, more agile two person armored vehicle, nor an main battle tank. Also, the armament is not even close. None of the concept art I've seen for the GXV mounts anything bigger than an 25mm auto-cannon and some missiles.  However, even if companies are able to build the DARAP GXV concept to hard-steel reality, it could not go toe-to-toe with something like the T-80 or Challenger II tanks. I can see several GXVs attacking and bring down the bigger vehicles, but one clean shot from the 120mm or 105mm cannon, and all of the clever tricks of the GXV are going to amount to nothing. The kinetic sabot penetrator will crush the GXV like a beer can. Interviews with the GXV project head, Kevin Massey says that the GXV is not a hard replacement for the one certain vehicle, like the M-1 Abrams, but a testbed of new technologies and tactical ideas. After all, the tanks was not the critical factor in the War in Afghanistan or Iraq after the initial 2003 invasion.

Offensive and Defensive Systems of the GXV 
Little information exists on the offensive hard-kill systems of the this mighty little wheeled armored vehicle. Concept art shows some sort of smoke dispenser, sensor cluster, and auto-cannon all rolled into a 360 degree package on top of the GXV concept hull. A vehicle this size, with this size crew, will not mount anything more than an auto-cannon sized gun system. There will be nor variant with an 105mm cannon, like the mobile gun system seen with the US Army's Stryker 6x6 vehicle, there just is not the foundation with the DARAP project goals\. What the little tank could use to engage typical MBTs still in service would be missile systems.
After all, anti-tank rockets are very effective and can still be operated by a crew of two. In terms of defensive technology, the GXV will be able to detect and react to various incoming threats in a more flexible way than current tank technology. Instead of relay on a thick coat of armor, the GXV reactions like Bruce Lee not a boxer, moves to avoid the energy and counters it, not absorbing the hit and the energy. DARPA video shows the little tank changing speed, height, and even jumping to avoid incoming threats. Beside maneuverability and agility, there will a smaller variant of the IDF's successful TROPHY system, smoke screen launchers, along with hardened armored plates that slide to intercept incoming threats, like RPGs. It is unknown the protection factor of these plates.  


  1. I can see a future vehicle like this as a kind of ground based 'attack helicopter', providing scouting, fire-support, target designation, and hunter-killer roles. A future version, or one in a SF novel, could be equiped with a all electric drive system, point defense lasers, and a hyper velocity gun, perhaps a light gas gun of some kind. The US also seem to be taking an interset in variouse micro-missiles, kind of smart grenades, that a vehicle like this could use to attack unourmoured targets, or as defence against aircraft.

  2. The concept of an all - terrain vehicle seems more reasonable for future battle field than the Mechas, I wonder why MSF writers so obsess with those Mechas?

    I don't think that DARFA envision a situation where GXV pack will have to fight MBT.
    The future battles will probably be asymmetrical warfare where the US enemies will be guerrillas / insurgents without any heavy vehicle or even without vehicle at all.
    In those scenarios the main danger to the GXV will be slow guided/non-guided missile and not fast kinetic projectile from a tank barrel.

    How the GXV will protect itself from missiles?
    The TROPHY will be a last line of defense before the impact but the GXV computer can automatic aim the turret with its auto-cannon @ medium machinegun to encounter the missile.
    Even a near-hit of the 25mm shells shockwave can damage the missile wings and destabilize it.
    If those shells are air - burst type than the computer will program them to explode a few feet before the incoming missile, affectively create a row of TROPHY mini-charges between the GXV and the missile!
    The turret's laser range-finder can be used to dazzle the missile optic head.
    Another, more sinister approach, is that the computer will aim the guns & laser to the enemy that "hold the stick" and guide the missile. The fire can kill the operator or at list force him to take cover and miss the GXV while the laser can blind him.

    While the computer takes control on the turret it can also can replace the human driver making evasion maneuvers, taking cover etc. faster than any human can.

    The intercept plates don’t adding protection by adding temporary thickness to the GXV. Missile shaped charge is capable of cutting thru MBT armor, those plate are placed a few feet from the body to initiate the shaped charge feats away from the body making the charge explosion less focus and less lethal.



  3. I see a future for the GXV. It could easily fill the cavalry roll on the battle field. Rather than replacing the MBT, it would support it. By screening the larger vehicle, the GXV would allow the MBT to survive long enough so it could bring its heavy fire power to bear. The MBT’s roll would be changed to that of artillery. One could imagine the crews of the GXV seeing themselves as a motorcycle gang members, even to the point of referring to their vehicles as “Hogs.”
    The main improvement needed to maximize the GXV’s abilities is an antitank missile that could be fired on the fly. A fire and forget weapon with its own targeting ability would greatly reduce the GXV’s vulnerability. The weapons could be thrown into the air and find its own target while the vehicle races to safety. Of course, the enemy will find counter measures to the missiles, which makes the support from MBTs important.
    On the subject of the intercept armor plates, I would wait to see how armor changes in the Future, before I post an opinion. I once saw an image in “Popular Mechanics” that showed an armor plate being thrown at an incoming missile. At another time I saw a film where DARPA demonstrated, (but did not explain,) a plasma type screen that destroyed incoming RPG-7 warheads before they could detonate. One can only guess as to how the GXV will protect itself.

  4. Nice comments, Yoel and Rodney! I think you are both right, the DARPA GXV is not a full replacement for the standard MBT, and would be in the role of support in the current low-intensity conflict.
    In answer to you, Yoel, I am not really sure why we MSF creators are obsessed with mecha. Anime and Manga just makes the technology so fucking cool, and given that I grew up with mecha, they became something with tons of nostalgic appeal and a high coolness factor. I also blame the power-loader from ALIENS. Mecha were just so radical different than any current battlefield technology and mecha was a symbol of how far combat technology had come. I think that is what Robert Heinlein was thinking when he developed the powered armor in Starship Troopers.
    The plasma screen is a very cool technology, and something FWS is going to be talking about with an blogpost about defensive technology along with the TROPHY system. Plasma shielding was seen in Elysium as well.
    Thanks for all the comments!

  5. That looked like more of a lmuv than a tank

  6. It's already here; IMI's CombatGuard 4x4 AFV. I want one in black :)


  7. The IMI Combat Guard 4x4 AFV is very cool vehicle, and I would love to drive one...I also did have the question if it came in black. We will be talking about this Israeli armored fighting vehicle in the upcoming APC/IFV blogpost.

  8. To Marcase & William

    For 150K$ U can buy civilian model of the Combat Guard called Zibar



  9. Oh, when is the sniper rifle/amr post coming (clean mind children).

  10. The FWS Armory: Sniper Rifle blogpost will be soon. FWS will be talking about wars over Mars, Operation: ALIENS, and if you really want the sniper rifle blogpost, I can bump it up over the patrolling and medium/light cruisers blogposts.

  11. Ok, But needs alot of work to close to a real project,