TARDEC: Army must re-think doctrine to cut vehicle weights

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — If the Army is serious about wanting to reduce the weight of its vehicles, then it has to seriously re-evaluate how it operates and not depend so heavily on material science, said Paul Rogers, the director of U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC).

“If you really want to go after vehicle weight in a disruptive manner, material science is an aspect of it but we really need to start challenging our doctrine, our conops, and our reliance on other technological means,” Rogers said here Friday at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Winter Symposium.

Vehicle weights have significantly increased as commanders look to protect their troops from relatively basic threats such as improvised explosive devices that littered the roads in Iraq and Afghanistan. With those increased weights, Army leaders have complained about losing their speed on the battlefield.

Rogers explained that to lessen those weights, too much is expected from material science. Unless there is a major break through in material science, Rogers said the Army can expect to reduce tank weights by only about six tons over the next 30 years.

However, if the Army was willing to take some risks and re-think the way it operates, it could slash vehicle weights.

“If you really want to get down to a 20 ton platform, lets take the soldier completely out of it and lets leverage autonomy out of systems,” Rogers said.

With soldiers coming out of Afghanistan after 12 years at war, Rogers said it’s time the Army take some risk in vehicle weights. Rogers said he’s interested in working with U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command to reconsider how the Army operates in its armored vehicles.

It’s time for the Army to consider the vehicle as a member of the squad, Rogers said. Soldiers should be able to depend on their vehicle to collect real time data for them and provide analysis. Vehicles should be better connected to unmanned vehicles collecting information overhead.

Heidi Shyu, the Army acquisition chief, has focused the Army to better sync their Science & Technology efforts to deliver better equipment on the battlefield quicker. Rogers said she has forced TARDEC to look beyond five years. He said that has helped understand future technologies and will help them take educated risks.

“I think this is a time to take risk. I think this is a time to incentivize ourselves to take risk. The longer planning horizons allow us to do that,” Rogers said.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • Lance

    This negates GCV since they want lighter vehicles for Operations the M-1 is the current heavyweight and the Army want6s small and light. a GCV that’s heavier conflicts with this new doctrine.

  • blight_

    If they want expendable vehicles and light weight, we can have teleoperated Humvees with TOW launchers be the first wave of the attack against Iran.

    If you take the DU out of an Abrams, it will still weigh about 60 tons. Do you go with a lighter, more compact engine? Do you reduce fuel tank size? Do you reduce the size of the gun and rounds stowed? Thinner composite armor?

    • tmb2

      We can probably build a more fuel efficient engine for the M1, but cutting anything else you suggest would hinder its main mission: going head to head with enemy armor. We up-gunned the M1 in the 1980s to keep up with peer threats and it only carries 40 rounds.

      I don’t think TARDEC is necessarily advocating expendable robots, but rather for the army to be willing to lose a few vehicles to keep freedom of maneuver instead of trying to build an impenetrable IFV.

    • Tri-ring

      Japan’s type 10 MBTs are only 40 tonnes with the base configuration, and 48 tonnes when fully equipped.

      • blight_


        No DU, swap the crew for an autoloader for a smaller turret…

        CVT sounds like for fuel economy in terms of efficient gearing; but I’m curious if they’re any lighter than standard units.

      • zak

        and how well do they perform in combat?

    • Tyler

      i don’t think we should reduce the size of the gun because they have there purposes and i don’t think we should make the armor thinner because its an armored vehicle that one of its many special qualities.

  • kiwiwni

    One of Fred Saberhagen’s visions is on the horizon…

  • Will Leach
  • dee

    “if the Army was willing to take some risks and re-think the way it operates…..”

    Whenever we look at an organization, any organization, and we consider the fact that often when it takes additional risk(s) we must consider that often the goal post is moved for defining the risk and quantifying the severity of the risk and too much “acceptable risk” is on boarded. As a result this creates an opportunity for a foe to exploit it. Look at the battles of Fallujah we went in there the 1st time expecting to steamroll the insurgents. The 1st time they were prepared and pushed back hard. The 2nd time we deceived them into giving away strong points and to identify their routes through their defensive positions. They exploited our arrogance and we exploited their inability to see the bigger picture.

    • majr0d

      You might want to relook the task organization and size of the second force. The size of the force was tripled and heavy armor made increased from 10 to 30%. Intel definitely helped but it was a smaller part of the anvil that came down on them.

    • Pat

      I think the 1st Fallujah batle was stopped because we didn’t want to cause excessive civilian casualties (similar but not quite why we let the Republican Guards get away whne we stopped the war after 4 days which was partly due to the scenes from the road of death that actually cost relatively few lives) and not because of insurgent pushback.


    I think autonomous tanks are a great idea

  • Chinese government

    We think computer controlled tanks are great idea.
    Also, we completely reject the latest accusations that the Chinese government is engaged in hacking your computers.

  • Chris

    Sounds like a difference of opinion within the Army…….

  • majr0d

    Sadly more BS. If we want to cut vehicle weight we have to accept risk to troops. That isn’t going to happen.

    Robotic vehicles and UAVs are cool (and appeal to the American affinity for high tech solutions) but we looked at this hard with FCS where almost every vehicle had its own drone and even the robots had robots.

    We also know that vehicles without infantry don’t do well for long in any environment just check the Israeli experience in ’73. We also learned in FCS experimentation that the enemy kills robots and then you have people doing the dangerous stuff again or even worse with really expensive/capable robots there’s a tendency to use grunts (human lives) to protect or recon the situation before committing the robot!

  • tee

    News Flash ( Pentagon Grounds JSF Fleet After Turbine Blade Cracks; ‘Potential Exists For Catastrophic Failure’).
    . http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/02/22/f-35-f

    • tee

      ” And I Quote “The damaged turbine module and associated hardware are being shipped to the manufacturer’s facility in Middletown, Conn., for investigation. This engine had 700 total hours of service, 400 of which were executed in flight, before the crack was found”, only 400 hundred hours of flight time, WOW, this is going to be expensive!
      . http://www.aviationweek.com/Article.aspx?id=/arti

  • dubweiser101

    I think we’ve reached the pinnacle of heavy armor… Time to consider less conventional, and traditional ways of projecting armor onto the battlefield. HOVER TANKS BABY!

    • we chan

      i good driver only 3 cases 2 dismised one i buy dinner

  • Godzilla

    It is probably possible to do a modern tank with only 2 crewmen with little reduction in overrall responsiveness. 1 pilot and 1 weapons operator. If you use an autoloader you do not need a loader. If you use sensor fusion between vehicles in the battlefield, and automated target detection, the load on the weapons operator will be reduced so much that the previously separate positions of tank commander and gunner will probably cease to be necessary. So you will need half the internal volume for people in the tank. If you reduce the interior volume of the tank, you reduce the amount of armor required to protect the tank crew as well reducing overall tank weight.

    I would not be surprised if there were more material breakthroughs relevant for armor in the next decade given modern composite materials design techniques.

    Today’s “light” armored vehicles e.g. CV-90 would be in the 20-30 tons class just like the M-2 Bradley. Hence a lot heavier than a BMP-3. In WWII terms they would be the same weight as medium tanks there. The T-34, Panzer IV, Sherman were all in that weight class and constituted the bulk of the tank combat forces of those powers.
    There were heavier tanks but those were used for breakthroughs or urban combat scenarios.

  • blight_

    The take home is that the engineers are saying that the army cannot wish away the weight problem without trading survivability, and I’m not sure how long it will take before they get the memo.

    At least they’re being honest about it. Beats eliminating lightning resistance from your jet fighter just to meet a weight limit….

  • chockblock

    This is an insane fantasy. You can’t have a vehicle with the protection the Army needs, the firepower it wants and the speed it has to have.

    The A6M Zero and HMS Hood scarified armor for speed, Both blewup when faced with opponents that could reach out and touch them.

    The M-1 is a mighty glacier but it works.

    The dumbasses at TARDEC don’t want to pay for the logistics, the tractor-trailers, aircraft and Support brigades needed to maintain the force.

    They picture some sci-fi fantasy tank that somehow weights a third of an M-1 but is just as lethal and protected.

    Put the numbers in and the computer will give you a sad face.

    Scrap the program entirely, upgrade the M-1 and the M-2/M-3 and call it a day. Oh and fire Paul Rogers and others who think like him. They need to stop playing with powerpoint.

  • bigdaddy

    I agree with some of the things he says and not with others. I can see this guy never rode in a M113 or fought from a M1. The way battle works is to have over lapping systems. You can’t just have M1 tanks, you need many other vehicles for support. The infantry does the work the tank blows everything up in front of them, they protect each other. With the way combat is in populated areas the king of the battlefield was always heavy artillery, it’s useless now. So a change in doctrine is necessary, right now the DOD has no clue were they are going to fight again, bet it’s another war fought within the population of a country. Why do you need 70+ ton behemoths to do that? The reason is because we don’t really fight to win, we play volley ball with guns.

  • Denny

    Lightness is desirable for a multitude of reasons, but the gold standard when building a fighting system is still combat effectiveness. So until we achieve a breakthru in lighter but equally effective armor, propulsion and armament, heavy systems like the M-1 remain absolutely essential to deter or defeat peer or near-peer opponents. We can lose a hundred low-end fights with terrorists or irregulars and our national security will likely still be essentially intact, but if our Army is outright defeated in one major slugfest everything we value could be threatened.

  • we chan

    I buy 4 for my boats new navy gun fire and forget I shot ever target down ace in sky always long live USA

  • riicky

    Look at that beautiful tank.

  • John D

    If weight is a factor then why is the army clamoring for th behemoth IFV bigger than an Abrams! Doesn’t anyone talk to each other about ideas, future tactics and purchaces in th eDoD or is everything stovepiped!! Like buying 5 differenk kinds of low quarter shoes when one would suffice!! Or a dozen different camoflage like the territory changes with the service employed on it!

  • SJE

    I agree that some rethinking is necessary, but they need to keep the option of heavy armor. The M1 is great, except for the parts about transporting it to theater, fueling it, driving across small bridges. Its also expensive to buy, and run. We can’t escape the fact that budgets are going to get cut.

    So, go for a basic tank design that is lighter, but easily retrofitted for more armor, bigger gun, and bigger engine, as needed. Match the flexibility and ease of fixing from the Sherman with the possibility of performance in a King Tiger. e.g. you might have a lighter armored, but bigger engine and gun for rapid advances across the desert. For urban warfare against irregulars, a lighter gun (e.g. 30mm autocannon), but heavy armor and engine to protect against IEDs. The same lighter design could also be retrofitted for semi-autonomous control from a main tank that is heavily armored.

  • Dfens

    I’d like to see the Army go to wing-in-ground-effect vehicles. They could fly a few feet above the ground at about 100 mph and would be relatively immune to attack by IEDs or mines. Plus they could cross bodies of water without a bridge and would be able to operate in a wide variety of traction conditions including over snow, ice, and mud. It’s the kind of out-of-the-box thinking they sorely lack.

  • jakck

    How about putting a diesel in the M-1A2s or does that make too much sense?

    • greg

      It makes perfect sense. That is what they will end up doing after wasting a few billion experimenting. Proving a use case though can be good.

      I wonder when reality will hit and they discover that an upgraded Bradley can be on par with most IFVs.

    • blight_

      Changing out the engine won’t save you weight, but has been suggested for greater fuel economy (which is also good).

      • greg

        That is why I am suggesting it. The M1 tank’s main problem in my opinion is fuel consumption. Weight is just fine.

  • Ronny

    Google “helltank” for an interesting idea – one that fires hellfire missiles.

  • gogoody

    not only would the tank/apache hybrid be airborne, with the turbine engine, but it can turn it to move forward/back/sideways. On the ground it just pushes, or the turbofans, gears to drive wheels. Hell they can build anything if they set their minds to it.
    KEEP it SIMPLE!!!

  • Muttling

    People love to talk increased risk until the risk turns into reality and then its a blame game before Congress. NASA went through this exact same routine and had some impressive failures like the Cassini Probe. Instead of saying “lets accept an increased risk” they should be real about it by saying “lets accept increased casualties in future wars.”

  • BobsYourUncle

    The fantasy: the whole army deployed anywhere in the world with 24hrs notice or less. The reality: only infantry can be deployed in such a way and only Airborne forces can do it without secure airfields already in place. No heavy equipment, no armor, no artillery, no chance against a reasonably equipped foe.

    To carry out an operation of any significance and to have more than 24hrs of staying power you need armor, you need artillery, you need a heavy pile of supplies. If its heavy and you need more than one or two, it has to go by ship. So to have armor and to have artillery, you need enough time to go by sea.

    Making it lighter means it won’t be armored. Now you’re back to no staying power. Using a computer to run throwaway bot tanks means they will be dumber than Paris Hilton. Despite what the egg heads say, machine stupidity is still (and will be for the foreseeable future,) a massive problem. An electronic analog to animal instinct and intuition has yet to be found. Would you really want to put the killing power of an M1 Abrams into the hands of a two year old retard with no common sense? That’s what you’ll be doing if you give it to a computer. (no offense to the mentally challenged intended, but offense to computers is.)

    Asking for a lightweight, bullet proof army with overnight delivery to anywhere in the world guaranteed is like asking for a perpetual motion machine. If running an army were really that simple, anyone could be a general. But wait, that’s what they really want. Something Paris Hilton could command using nothing more than a twitter account, that way political alignment can be made the only requisite for generalship.

    PS the use of Paris Hilton as an example of incompetence is not motivated by sex or hair color. Its about her being a totally worthless airhead. Of which I am certain a great many male, brunette examples also exist.

  • PNS

    Oh. Sorry.
    I thought that this was another article about Chris Christie.

  • yaniv

    this is the beautiful tank.

    מעצבת פנים משרדים

  • moe sizlack

    Picture this…..the article mentioned taking the soldier out of the equation……why would the army want to take the soldier out of the equation? In the middle stages of the Iraq war, the army was mortified over the casualties that were being taken over lightly armored HMMMwvs. The DoD started the MRAP program in response. And history goeson from there.

    The reason I bring this up is because the reason we have such massive weightsin combat vehicles is because commanders are unwilling to accept high numners of casualties…nor should they accept high number of casualties due to lightly armored vehicles. The main reason these vehicles are so heavy is the armor that provides the protection levels required for safely getting the crew and passengers to the battle front, and completeing the mission with the least amount of risk.

    If we start with cutting armor protection to save weight, or relying on active protection systems that can fail for protection, how may soldiers will die trying to fight the wars we ask them to fight?

  • gogoody

    not only would the tank/apache hybrid be airborne, with the turbine engine, but it can turn it to move forward/back/sideways. On the ground it just pushes, or the turbofans, gears to drive wheels. Hell they can build anything if they set their minds to it.

    • blight_

      Like an aircraft family with conventional takeoff, catapult capable and STOVL cousins?


  • FatTail

    Fast and Light only makes sense for Offense and Recon. The US is great on Offense anyway, but you are going to be on Defense more than Offense. If you want to be safe then, armor weight is paramount. It is rally arguing over the same coin, but two sides.

    I assume, a high/low, light/heavy mix is not possible in limited funds. I would prefer heavy then.

  • Rob C

    Reducing the weight of the next generation of MBT isn’t completely a bad idea. They want fuel efficiency, which makes perfect sense. New armor technology may make it possible while reducing the size perhaps half the size. Only problem i have is the automation, with any technology, specially computer related. There maintenance, this stuff breaks down. You’d have to have a pretty dedicated company out there, support them just provide support for this increase automation. Japan’s medium tanks have auto loaders, which is fine. Have they actually used them consistently enough see how they’ll run down in a non-peace time situation? Not like they’re deploying their tanks globally.

    Automation/tele-operationing tanks concerns me. Being on the ground is differient thank being remotely numerous miles away. Frankly going full on Bolo/AI controlled tank, would open the vehicle to being jacked by Hackers or worse a virus. I still think a low tech solution, specially with US Military still having to get grip on all those legecy equipment out there been obsoleted and expensive to replace within a 2 decades of service. M1 still not obsoleted. Just not fuel efficient.

  • Shail

    “….If you really want to get down to a 20 ton platform…”

    OK, what again exactly is the rationale of 20-ton combat vehicles?
    Oh that’s right: over-dependence on USAF C-130 fleet to move Army hardware at Army’s dicretion.
    Tried it with Stryker and it was proven impossible to move said Stryker Brigade Combat Team anywhere in the world in 96hours. Hell, we can’t even do that with C-5s and C-17s.
    Theoretically MAYBE, but there again, that assumes the USAF will just drop every other mission those aircraft have and ready them at the Army’s timeframe requirements, and no number of USAF brass will ever OK that.

    The chokepoint here then in this 20-ton fallacy is obviously the conceptualized C-130 dependency. So the solution moreso should be, slap some sense into the USAF for a new AMST type aircraft (query YC-14, YC-15), a 30-ton cargo capacity is way more leeway/legroom to play with than 20 tons, and gives us much better opportunity for a vehicle design.
    Obviously no AFV weighing umpteen tons over an Abrams will fly, literally. Not in C-5s and C-17s for very far without expensive aerial refueling. Float them there,…put need new port facilities to offload their heavy outsized @sses.

    • SJE

      If you need quick response, and don’t want to maintain huge overseas bases, what do you suggest?

  • Kirk

    Well why not upgrade and revamp the Stingray tank ? Add DU, a more powerful powerplant, revamped turret with autoloader. Wider tracks(maybe M1) and M1 main gun. Alot of off the shelf schtuff could make for a decent 35-40 ton AFV.

  • Jeff

    I think people are running on the idea and ignoring the reasoning behind it. This is about meating all the goals and demands that are being placed on the next generation of vehicles. As it is, those goals and demands are unattainable short of an eureka moment that revolutionizes science, which simply is like winning the lottery. So if the goals are unrealistic and contradict each other, obviously the Army has to rethink its goals or rethink how the vehicles are intended to operate.

    The problem at hand is that vehicles are too heavy to be as mobile as they need to be. The problem is risk aversion thats turning every light vehicle into a mobile fortress and every tank into something very limited in where it can go. The proposition at hand I think has merits. By emphasizing autonomous and semi-autonomous capabilities in vehicles you mitigate the risk to life in a way armor can’t. By strengthening the integration of traditionally heavier capabilities you have a more direct line of support to infantry. The other part of this suggestion is that it doesn’t have to be in place of traditional capabilities. The Army would still have Bradley-like vehicles, without the growing waist line, but also these slightly more expendable autonomous vehicles as a buffer.

  • Terry

    Strykers are not bad vehicles they are pretty quick and there are so many types almost any type of weapon systems can go on them
    All they need is a v haul for an upgrade.

    • greg

      Where have you been. That has been a program of record for years now. There are v-hull strykers in Afghanistan now.

  • William_C1

    Do we really need to repeat the FCS MGV program debacle? The technology isn’t there yet.

    Aim for something more achievable. Like 40 tons in the most basic configuration. This should allow for two vehicles per C-17A as opposed to one.

    The M1 Abrams still has a lot of life in it too. We should go ahead with an M1A3 upgrade and postpone any plans for a whole new MBT. New vehicle development should focus on replacements for the M2/M3 Bradley and M109A6 Paladin. Eventually you could use the same chassis and components for a vehicle to supplement or replace the Abrams.

    Spare Bradley hulls could be re-purposed into replacing all of the M113 hulls we currently use as mortar carriers, ambulances, command posts, and so forth.

    The Stryker is a useful asset, but we don’t need any more Stryker brigades. Those units should refocused on being a fast to deploy, mechanized infantry force. They shouldn’t be expected to compare heavier designs in terms of armor protection.

    The idea of a dedicated vehicle like the cancelled M8 AGS to support airborne units is worth considering, but that would involve the Army having some extra money.

  • guest

    I think you guys are missing he point. The issue can be broken down to 2 main points:

    1. manned versus unmanned – canwe remove the solder from the equation or at least reduce the number of soldiers

    2. active or passive armor: until now tanks have relied on more and better passive armor to protect the troops. thicker steel and more sophisticated armor – this weighs alot. The other option to is to go to more active armor like the Israeli Trophy system or other active protection systems, They are lighter but may be more complex and expensive

  • chrisgoike

    Does anyone else worry that by taking the people out of the hardware to limit casualties just invites greater desire to use it?
    “Hey lets send those tanks in to secure things, what have we got to lose!”
    Besides that the problem is more basic. Fight wars to win and not for a draw and constitute your force for just such a thing. Fight. Win. Impose. Leave.

    • majr0d

      Interesting point. That’s what happened with drones.

  • DocScience

    Let’s see, we are going into town surrounded by BG’s with IED’s, mines, and anti-tank missiles.

    I can have one 100 ton supertank, 5 lightweight target practice tanks, or 200 half ton weapons.

    How about taking the DARPA/Boston Dynamics “big dog” and mounting an autoloaded 105 recoil-less rifle on it for serious work. One with a MK19 launcher on it for less serious work and another one with an articulated arm mounted M134 with a respectable amount of ammo for just raising all heck. All with thermal/night sights. Maybe give them a pressurized hydraulic quiet mode that lets them walk 100 yards with the engine off.

    And give these gun platforms to every platoon. And swarms of them to every armored brigade.

    Am pretty sure that some serious whoop@ss would result.


    I don’t see the argument here. Supposedly, tanks such as the Challenger and the Leopard II are similar, if not better than, the Abrams. So whats with the weight cut down? Keep the a low as possible with every piece of kit available, not just keep the weight low. If you are so desperate, military, do this: take the 120 off, and add a big laser. Problem solved. In place of all those rounds of ammo, put a relatively safer power generator. Then hook it up to the laser. And bam. Whats more, I don’t remember a laser beam being vastly effected by wind. What is important is to keep the platform steady. There you have it.

  • Rob

    Keep the heaviest at home and front line defense bases only. Everything else should be designed for mobility. Unless we are planning large invasion, tanks have little use.

    In today’s battle field I wonder thou. Which is really easier to disable.. a tank, a MRAP, helicopter or a jet. Whichever has the most survivability should be mostly used.

  • Wings33

    Elite US light divisions are routinely trashed in excercises against German units with 3 ton Wiesel tankettes. They and their Hummers also took heavy losses against 3rd world light infantry in the Middle East. In contrast, crappy MRAPs and Striker trucks do pretty well (withstanding mines, RPG’s, small arms fire) against them, despite having poor reliability and mobility (in cities, cross country, and over poorly developed roads and bridges). We would do much better with well designed tracked armored vehicles. We should develop families (tanks, APC’s, arty, cargo) of 4t, 8t, 16t, and 24t vehicles. Light units would deploy with the combo of vehicles they select for the mission. If you are fighting Hajis in Toyota pickups in mountains, an 8t tracked vehicle that climbs like a mountain goat and spews 40mm Bofors shells 10 miles and 40mm grenade 2 miles is a pretty nice gadget. If we had competent military leaders working with a dramatically improved state department, we would not need to deploy the entire army to small conflicts. We should be hiring and training locals to do most of the work. Learn from Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, Afg folks! Sending hundreds of thousands of invading troops on “presence patrols” doesn’t work!

    • blight_

      Doesn’t a Humvee weigh around 4 tons?

      The Wiesel is a neat little vehicle, and I imagine it would be easier to armor up than a Humvee.

      To me, a Gator + Chenowith DPV + Humvee + Wiesel combo covers the light end of things pretty well. As for 16 and 24t those are on the heavy side for off-roading and rural bridges, but are certainly lighter than a Bradley or an MBT.

      As for hiring the locals to do our dirty work…we did that at Tora Bora. There’s a reason Mullah Omar and Osama aren’t sitting in Gitmo right now.

    • Godzilla

      The British also have the Scimitar class of lightweight tracked vehicles.

      IMHO if the venerable C-130 is not good enough for the job perhaps it is time for an upgrade. Something like the Japanese C-2 dual turbofan military transport aircraft. That was heavier tracked vehicles with better armor could be airlifted around the globe.

  • Wes Cooler

    An important lesion I learned in Ranger School: there is security in speed. I think that bears examination when designing vehicle systems.