Wanted: Next-Gen Armored Vehicles With Less Armor

MRAPThe Pentagon wants next-generation armored vehicles that are more mobile, maneuverable and survivable, but without more armor.

In September, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will host a proposer’s day to give potential contractors a more clear idea of what the Defense Department wants in its Ground X-Vehicle Technologies program.

“GXV-T’s goal is not just to improve or replace one particular vehicle— it’s about breaking the ‘more armor’ paradigm and revolutionizing protection for all armored fighting vehicles,” Kevin Massey, DARPA program manager, said in an Aug. 18 press release.

Historically, militaries and industry have responded to improved or more lethal attacks on its armored vehicles by adding more armor. But armor piercing weapons technology has pretty much taken the day in that competition, advancing faster than industry’s ability to come up with armor to withstand penetration, Massey said.

The more heavily armored vehicles do increase the chances of crew survivability. The Congressional Research Service, citing DoD figures in 2009, said the casualty rate for troops in an MRAP is 6 percent. For the M-1 Abrams, it’s about 15 percent and for the up-armored HMMWV – the Humvee – it’s 22 percent.

But the additional armor and weight – some MRAPs will weigh up to 24 tons – has meant significant increases in vehicle mass and cost. And that increased mass has meant sacrificing maneuverability on the battlefield, where threat environments change. Larger vehicles are limited to roads, demand more logistical support and are more expensive to design, develop, field and replace, the DARPA release said.

As a result, the U.S. military is looking for so-called “disruptive” innovations – technologies that change everything – to ensure survivability of crew and vehicle in the next generation of armored fighting vehicles, DARPA says.

The agency is looking for technologies that could be developed in 24 months and incorporated into a broad range of ground, tactical and support vehicles following the successful completion of the program.

Massey said the GXV-T program was inspired by X-plane programs that have been instrumental in improving aircraft capabilities over the past six decades.

“We plan to pursue groundbreaking fundamental research and development to help make future armored fighting vehicles significantly more mobile, effective, safe and affordable,” Massey said.

The proposer’s day, which is being held in advance of the official call for project proposals, will be at the DARPA Conference Center in Arlington, Virginia, on Sept. 5, from 9 am to 3 pm. More information is available here.

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.
  • NotReallyHere

    A dream never realized, and might never be.

    Speed only matters during the offense. Most of the time you are on patrol, waiting to get ambushed, or you are static, waiting to get ambushed. Unless your plan is to runaway, all that matters is armor protection. And despite all the armor progress, mass is your friend, at least 25 tons.

    It would be nice to break the cycle, but without active protection systems and better armor recipes, you are stuck with the weight.

    • Dan Ashland

      Well said, light has its place but heavy rules

      • commenter

        There is not one size for all roles.

        Size has some benefits, but you become so limited in mobility that there are only limited routes you can take, you’re slow, and you need many more “targets” around you to provide support.

        An M1A2 is great, but it basically needs a tanker trunk following it to keep it moving over any great distance (burns gallons of fuel per mile). The M1A2 is pretty well protected, but in order for it to function it needs a big soft target following it around. You don’t want an entire fleet with that logistical footprint.

        • commenter

          The other problem with larger vehicles is that it is a lot easier to add an extra shell to that IED than it is to make a tougher vehicle. There are already weapons that will defeat any armor that could be deployed on a vehicle. Even main battle tanks are not invulnerable.

    • demophilus

      Sounds to me like that’s exactly what DARPA’s looking for — better (read, “lighter”) armor recipes, and/or active protection systems.

      For example, the Chobham armor used in MBTs was originally developed with last generation ceramics and composites. There have been a lot of developments in ceramics since then. Ditto for nanoengineered materials, particularly metals.

      I can’t talk about the circumstances, but I ran across a guy that claimed he could engineer a composite armor that would convert more of the impact energy into sound than ordinary composites. I’m pretty sure he’s a charlatan, but it was an interesting idea — creating a non-explosive reactive armor.

      There was some mention a few years ago about using shear thickening fluids — e.g., hard composite particles suspended in a fluid that would compress when stressed. You could basically go heavy when you need to by adding the fluid component to the kit when needed. It could even have a reactive component.

      Finally, there was also some mention a few years ago about electrically enhanced systems — for example, aligning materials at the molecular level with electric fields, or using different electric layers to deflagrate EFPs.

      IMHO, all of this is Buck Rogers stuff, but that’s DARPA’s job.

    • tiger

      Speed maters in defense & offense. Having a armored turtle is useless as a weapon system. It is a mind set that compromises other qualities for the sake of defense.

  • jamesb

    But the units will be easier on America roads , after being passed on, when they get replaced later on with Newer next generation ones….

  • One has to be careful with the casualty rates cited in an “MRAP” specific study. First, how did they get them? Are they counting casualties or incidents where casualties resulted? MRAPs tend to carry more troops Are they counting TBI’s? Second, the study seems pretty specific to Iraq where IED’s were the enemy’s weapon of choice. Against a better armed enemy, MRAPs would litter the battlefield.

    Then there’s the impact of numbers. I bet the stats don’t hold for Afghanistan where we’ve deployed all of 14 M1’s.

  • Larry Kaye

    Maneuverability means less weight. Less weight means less armour. Less armour
    means more injuries. It’s the laws od physics.
    LK

    • guest

      Mass saves lives man. Some one in DoD is thinking Star Trek shields and repealing the laws of physics. Good luck with that.

  • Joe_the_Nipper

    one way to tackle this might be to invest more R&D into active protection systems. to make them more reliable, durable and efficient. this might save a great deal of weight in heavy armour plates.

  • Kirk

    Jackie Fisher tried tried this with Battlecruisers in WW1 with catastrophic results

    • blight_asdf

      They’re looking for something other than thick plates to mitigate the threat. For instance, reactive armor tiles mitigated shaped charge attacks (until tandems) without the weight penalty associated with thicker armor. There’s no ADS against IED attack like there is with ATGMs for the present.

      Unless their plan is some kind of airbag that can rapidly deploy to take the blast wave of a IED (and additionally, cushion a lighter vehicle when it’s flipped like a toy in a particularly large blast)…

      • Bernard

        The only solution to IED’s is 24/7 surveillance.

        • nick987654

          Make a solar powered drone capable of several days of surveillance with top a top notch electro-optical sytem. It could survey a 30 miles radius area.

  • Bernard

    Driving faster isn’t going to stop IED’s. Speed and maneuverability on the ground isn’t going to save you from modern weaponry either. Speed will help you get to the target sooner and evacuate faster, but once you have to hold a position or respond to road blocks and ambushes, then that speed is no longer an option.

    Regardless, I hope that this is more than just pipe dreaming and that they are using real combat experiences to shape these decisions.

    • tiger

      Turning in to turtles is also not a solution. Your heading down the same road that killed the plate armor knights of old. If the dumb thing is too heavy to use a bridge or transport, it is useless.

      • Riceball

        The weight of their armor wasn’t what killed the knights of old, it was the invention of the crossbow and later on, firearms making even the best plate armor useless. The stories of knights being heavily encumbered in their armor and having to be winched on to their horses is all myth based, largely, on jousting armor which was a lot heavier than normal plate armor because it wasn’t meant to be worn on the field of battle but at the lists in tourneys. In reality, a fully armored knight in plate armor could move around just fine and it’s reputed that Henry VII (in his prime) could actually do cartwheels when in full plate armor.

        I’d argue that the more important factor in weight is the transportability of the vehicle, given that we fight overseas an overly heavy vehicle is hard to transport in great numbers. Via aircraft it means that we can transport a lot fewer at a time even if you can physically fit more vehicles in the aircraft, it becomes less of an issue by sea but I’m sure that even ships have their limits.

  • oblatt22

    Obviously nobody here has read the spec. These are not designed to survive combat they are designed to avoid contact completely.

    Like the F-35 and LCS these are designed to run away from combat.

    • Bob1968thru1991

      Riddle me this, how can you fight or even win a battle if you run a away?

  • Stanley

    Whenever I hear a military-industrial spokesperson mention “breaking a paradigm” and “revolutionizing” something across the board, I know the spokesperson is describing a contractor’s boondoggle. The only thing that will come from this “proposers day” will be industry behemoths getting more taxpayer loot in exchange for endless developmental programs that fail to turn into end products. It’s corporate wellfare.

    Frankly, this stinks of the Ground Combat Vehicle fiasco. That sought to change “paradigms” and be “revolutionary”. The result was a stinking mess of detritus, the likes of which sanitation workers fear to encounter.

    • Guest

      The problem I see with your post is the assumption that the GVT-X will turn into a production vehicle.

      As the article states “the GXV-T program was inspired by X-plane programs that have been instrumental in improving aircraft capabilities over the past six decades”.

      The only X-plane that produced a direct production model was the X-35. The rest were small project testbeds to develop a very specific technology or scientific principle. Also, the project is being ran by DARPA, which isn’t known for large projects.

      For more info: http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2014/08/

      GXV-T’s technical goals include the following improvements relative to today’s armored fighting vehicles:

      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

      • oblatt22

        The mistake you make is thinking that there is such a thing as a production vehicle. We don’t make production anymore everything is a prototype. We have 100 F-35s not a single one is a production vehicle.

        • Guest

          Better than any other run of an X-plane. Also, keep in mind that the big complexity of the F-22 and F-35 is the software, not the hardware. Software doesn’t play as much a role in ground vehicles.

  • msgingram

    When they knew the MRAP’s were in the vicinity the enemy just increased the amount of explosives and more of them. There were a lot of MRAP’s that survived an IED but the personnel manning them were not able to return to full or partial duty after a substantial hit. TBI’s were numerous. I saw several MRAP’s that were so heavily damaged they were taken to the motor pool and just sat there. It also is one of the problem with the tanks, with enough explosive a track came off or people inside had some problems. There, at this time, is really no answer so troops are stuck with the hefty critters. So iron is nicer than urn, urn does not weigh all that much but I prefer the iron.

  • Jeff

    Answer to IEDs is less ground vehicles and more helicopters. Helicopter operations would be safer and faster. The problem is it costs more and of course when it comes to washington it all comes down to the money.

    • Not if the enemy has MANPADS or significant air defense artillery. Look at the stats for helicopters coming out of Vietnam. http://www.vhpa.org/heliloss.pdf

      Over 5000 helicopters were shot down with over 2000 Huey pilots alone KIA. Too many people look at the last decade of conflict as emblematic of all warfare. It’s not.

    • tiger

      Sorry, but that is a lousy idea.

    • Riceball

      You can’t really patrol city streets in a helo like you can in a ground vehicle, you miss too much as you’re zipping around a few hundred feet above the ground going a couple hundred miles an hour. For that matter, you can’t patrol anything that way since it’s too easy for all but a mass of troops to hide from a helo, even in a desert.

  • Taylor

    Lighter vehicles could go offroad to make it more difficult for the enemy to plan where to place the IEDs.

  • JohnD

    MRAP design precludes speed due to the high profile, and in conjunction with the V shaped design makes it top heavy and has limited applications vs humvees which if up armored strain the chassis and the engine. Compromise always means it won’t work on either mission well! You’ll need to,have,both! Use the LAV-25 for what it was intended, recon, cavalry type missions. The Stryker has more,troops, less,firepower vs the LAV-25, the canon version is,a bad,compromise.,the best seems to be the medic vehicle that should replace the ancient M113/577 series antiques on the battle field!

  • ohwilleke

    I am increasingly coming around to the view that the DOD should set forth very vague RFPs and simply ask contractors to make proposals for “what can you do for $X” per unit with a buy of Y units by Z delivery date, rather than trying to micromanage requirements in ways that are frequently not technologically possible.

    The notion that every single project needs to accomplish the impossible wildly drives up costs and delays projects, when incremental development within the range of the possible that isn’t necessary COTS technology either could be much more economical, and give troops something better than the status quo in the meantime while contractors work on coming up with impossible superweapons.

    Also, the RFP is the creative phase of the overall enterprise and it makes sense that design engineers trained to build things rather than Pentagon bureaucrats are better suited to that function.

  • Terrorists will use more explosives to destroy heavier armoured vehicles. In a conventional fight MBT conversions with 360 deg defence systems may be the way to go.

  • Chris

    You can bet that those wanting this criteria, won’t be riding in them.

    • tiger

      Feel free to walk….

  • PolicyWonk

    Sounds like a watered down version of FCS.

    We all know how well that turned out…

    :-(

  • Old Guy Thoughts

    Since they grounded the A-10’s, why take the titanium tubs out of them and repurpose them and put them in the crew compartments to protect individual crew members in these vehicles?

    • blight_asdf

      Titanium tub isn’t protected from the blast of five artillery shells wired together…or an EFP.

  • john

    What is needed is a type of hard foam or something that dissipates the energy.a hard shell underneath of course maybe made of ceramics also small drones overhead with sensors linked to the vehicle maybe even with wire like the tank missiles have so you cant hack em the silhouette of the vehicle will be larger of course so a better cammo will be needed.what is needed is a combo of things working together.and the most important thing is a better foreign policy making high tech war much less likely.thats horrible writing butt love my country and wanted to add my 2 cent

  • nick987654

    Make the armored vehicles more stealthy instead of more armored. For instance, MBDA has a new camouflage system which reduces significantly the visual and IR signatures:
    http://www.mbda-systems.com/e-catalogue/#/solutio

    Add to that an ADS system.

    The vehicle can have an additional armor kit for urban warfare.

  • ron pond

    Well then you need a force field are stand off armor or deflecting armor. granted speed is essential. but you can get in to trouble by beening to fast. pressure and determination is a must in combat. but also safety consciousness are a must too. no man likes putting his self in harms way if he does not have a bonified way of surviving . unless he is an idiot. and I’ve seen some generals that think that their men are strong unstoppable idiots . are at least he hopes they are so he can look good.

    • tiger

      Men are also replaceable. Putting them in harms way comes with the job. Being risk adverse leads to stalemate & failure.

  • anton

    With all that armour airco is a must..Makes the Gun trucks we had in nam look like nothing..

  • I thought this was what the JLTV program was for.

  • avenger666

    Anyone remember the “rat patrols” of the desert wars. They had a jeep, a machine gun, some hand grenades and a few mines and raised proverbial hell with the enemy. Not an armoured amrap in the entire bunch. Sometimes simple is best and more effective.

    • blight_

      Works for ISIS too.

    • Murf

      TV show guy.

    • blight_qwerty

      I would note that the LRDG never went head to head against enemy nation-state armies without suffering serious casualties. Whenever intercepted, even by equivalent light reconaissance units the outcome was never good.

    • Nelsom M. Kerr

      Tery driving one of those jeeps down a village street, or mountain road where someone has planted a IED and you will net even be able to find all the bodies.

      THE LRDG operated maily in ppen desert. and the enemies they fought were far more lightly armed. Modern troop have neither luxury

      They also did not intentional go looking for fights, unlike normal; military patrolling, they avoided them when possible since fighting end the chance of successful Recce containing to be possible. If found they ran like hell

  • ken

    The only new revolution in military affairs is the concept of a faster, lighter, and more survivable vehicle. I will get excited when I see the technology.

  • Colten

    Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

  • AAK

    It’s an aim worth investigating but the military always seems to want one magic thing to be both a fillet knife and an axe. Elements of this thinking in the f-35, and the next gen rotorcraft is heading down an even worse path.

    There have been advances in materials and manufacturing but there must be heavy and light vehicles for different roles for the foreseeable future, and FFS don’t try and make them variations on one platform trying to pretend this will be cheaper.

  • Murf

    Here we go again same old same old. As soon as the shooting stops (or in this case lets up) the gizmo guys and head shed weenies want to lighten up the vehicles. Then when the shooting starts again and the body parts start coming home we have up armor everything.
    Again
    The worst part is the bean counters want a one size fits all vehicle that can do every thing. One size fit all means one size fits none.
    Any craftsman will tell you use the right tool for the right job.

  • Kostas

    chobham armor, ERA, V-hulls, slat armor are all examples of enhanced armor without significant added weight.

    Are these the only ideas to achieve that? Who knows if you don’t stimulate the bright people to come up with ideas, exactly as DARPA does here.

    Regarding the active armor systems I have significant doubts about how a system that makes the vehicle more easily detectable (by the radar emissions) can enhance the survivability of the vehicle. The radar emissions can be used as a beacon to guide low cost munitions for a saturation attack on the vehicle. I don’t think that active armor is really worth the money.

  • ken

    The center of gravity is top heavy. It will look like a grasshopper.

  • guest

    Take out the crew and you don’t need as much armor. (Check with US auto companies as they are working on cars that can drive themselves.) This will work in most aps except troop transport. So, DARPA, start thinking outside the box. BTW, pilot-less aircraft also are less expensive, better performing (no soft stuff inside), and are willing to do suicide missions, like taking out rogue nuclear refining facilities. Lots of potential there.

    • Mystick

      Yeah, it’s a lot easier to perform 20g maneuvers without worrying about turning your giblets into chunky salsa.

    • Riceball

      Great idea but it only works in limited applications, fine for tanks . recon vehicles, and supply trucks; totally worthless if you want an APC, troop carrier, or something to patrol in where have people that get out to take a closer look at things of interest.

  • Vince

    Just crapped my shorts. A internet comment thread that is interesting, intelligent, and respectful. Thank you.

  • ken

    It is incumbent upon us to prepare for the next war with new technology, doctrine, training, and tactics. I am perfectly fine with that, as long as I understand that they are pushing and developing a concept that will improve what we have now. However, the concept is based on technology that is not invented yet. The worst thing they can do is create some half baked piece of sh-t to replace our Abrams. I was a tank officer, what made the M1 good is its low center of gravity, a suspension to die for which protected the crew from rough terrain and allowed it to go fast on relatively flat terrain, the accuracy of its main gun, and the armor to protect the crew. The concept vehicle has a high center of gravity so it will tip over easily. If they add a great suspension to it, it will bounce around like a grasshopper. They should not treat the M1 like the A-10. The F-35 is not ready to fight yet.

  • Mystick

    I would say develop the platform for the mission. Is it to be deployed in a military combat environment with all manner of weapons systems arrayed against it – tanks, aircraft, artillery, etc., or a more benign environment of small arms, incendiaries, and possibly low explosives? Is the mission recon, transport, or fighting.

    You don’t deploy a transport aircraft for air-to-air, you deploy a fast aircraft that can reach out and touch someone.

    I can see this project developing Bradley Syndrome/mission creep quite easily. HMMWV’s were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as IFV’s, a role to which they were not designed or intended to fulfill. The result was a fugly Frankenstein combat vehicle which severely reduced the crew’s line of sight, ingress and egress, and from reports I have heard, relative comfort(let’s not forget that), while only guarding against a limited threat vector(RPGs and to a lesser extent, IEDs). Even the notoriously vaunted MRAP is a prototype rushed into production, and is even now being de-mil’d and sold to civilians.

    What I’m trying to say is, if you want an IFV, design an IFV. If you want a recon truck, develop a recon truck. If you want a patrol vehicle, develop a patrol vehicle. If you want a utility/transport, design a utility/transport.

    No vehicle is going to be the magical fit for all of those roles. Trying to make it do everything will make it mediocre at anything. That is a bureaucratic fantasy pushed by desk drivers train in the martial art of logistics, not combat.

    Case in point: F-35. A mediocre air-to-air platform, a mediocre strike platform, a mediocre CAS platform… but hey! We can source the parts from the same suppliers across all services and eliminate TONS of paperwork! Who cares if it costs twice as much as estimated and won’t be online for years after it was scheduled… and rescheduled… again. We got that cool tilt-rotor transport after 30 years of development. Let’s sell it to Congress!

    • blight_qwerty

      We never did have enough Bradleys to transport all the infantry we around like wanted. And short of keeping everyone on base and only having mechanized infantry on base, a vehicle was needed to escort convoys and move infantry through crowded streets without resorting to large tracked vehicles…something about pretending to not occupy Iraq? Hah.

      We never did have enough tanks, IFVs in the country for everyone. And if we did, we’d need even more trucks. And even more Humvees to escort those trucks around.

  • Mystick

    I completely, 100% agree.

  • oblat35

    These designs are reaaly just pocket money for the contractors and nothing to do with reality. When it comes down to it despite 80 years of afv design in the next war most Amercian troops will still die in lightly armored trucks.

  • Guy Stuart

    Does the US not look at what Israel has already developed often with US funding? The US still relies on the ineffective Patriot for missile defense while Israel has Iron Dome, the Arrow and other very effective anti-missile defense systems recently tested in a real world conflict.
    Not long ago the US Defense Dept requested bids for a system to combat anti-armor weapons such as RPG’s and Saggars. Israeli companies were not asked to bid even though they had already developed their Trophy System which, again, has a proven track record of success at defending their armored vehicles against these types of weapons. Why not buy these existing and proven systems? US puts US defense contractors ahead of US military personnel. Our soldiers lives aren’t as important as the cozy relationship between Pentagon desk jockeys and the defense industry where they may have a future job waiting for them. Stupid, criminal and disgusting waste of money and human lives.

  • Joe Biden

    Space-X rockets! They could fly the troops around the battle field!

  • ONTIME

    How about new weapons with more fire effect for these lighter combat vehicles, they are going to need some way of surviving…..