WASHINGTON — The four companies vying for the Army’s robotic combat vehicle program displayed prototypes at this year’s Association of the US Army conference.
The RCV is an unmanned system meant to serve alongside manned units, part of a larger slate of updated ground combatants — the Next Generation Combat Vehicles — the Army is acquiring. Its missions will include ones that would pose a high threat to soldiers, such as approaching enemy forces for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance.
McQ, Textron Systems, General Dynamics Land Systems and Oshkosh Defense were selected to compete for the light model of the RCV in late September. The Army’s framework for the program has since changed, though.
This month, the service announced it was no longer seeking separate light, medium and heavy models. Instead, it would focus on a single size, somewhere between the former light and medium requirements.
“It’s really now about payload,” as opposed to size, Maj. Gen. Glenn Dean, the chief program officer for ground combat systems, told Defense News.
In this first phase of the competition each company was awarded just under $25 million to submit two prototypes to the Army for testing and evaluation by August of 2024. In fiscal year 2025, the service will then choose a winner to provide nine more prototypes. The first unit is meant to be fielded in 2028.
Based in Fredericksburg, Virginia, McQ is working as the prime on a team that includes BAE Systems and HDT Expeditionary Systems, the lead vehicle developer.
The Wolf-X, their offering, is the only one with wheels, as opposed to tread. These “tweels” are designed by Michelin with spokes that compress against the surface they’re traveling on, almost like the foam on the sole of a running shoe. HDT argued these increase the vehicle’s nimbleness, stealth and durability.
According to the company, the Wolf-X runs on a hybrid diesel and electric engine and can sustain speeds above 40 miles per hour. Its range extends past 150 miles, and fitted with the base equipment required by the Army — fuel, munitions, a weapons system and UAS — it weighs around 16,000 pounds.
“It meets all the Army’s requirements for both the base vehicle, that’s relatively lightweight, as well as it can carry more than the Army’s required payloads,” said Thomas Van Doren, chief technology officer and vice president of engineering at HDT. “This has a significant amount of growth capability.”
On display two floors below, the Textron Systems RIPSAW M3 is a part of the company’s larger family of RIPSAW vehicles. Their larger M5 was among the entries competing for the Army’s RCV medium model before the competition was deferred in 2022.
“There’s a lot of commonality between our medium and our light,” said Dave Phillips, Textron senior vice president for land and sea systems. He noted that 75% of the two vehicles’ line replaceable units are the same, arguing that their experience with the M5 is now informing their lighter model.
The M3′s 80-inch wide chassis has a curb weight of 13,000 pounds and can support 5,000 pounds of payload, Phillips said. According to the company, their offering has a 140-mile range, can move at more than 30 miles per hour and has undergone 1,200 miles of operational testing.
At last year’s Army conference, Textron displayed an earlier model of their M3 with the ability to “swim.” Their current prototype no longer has the same capability. But it includes traits, such as buoyancy, that could make it easy to add back again were the Army to require it in later phases of the vehicle, Phillips said.
“I do believe ultimately, they’re going to want to do wet gap crossing,” he said. “So we’ve kept that native capability in.”
Oshkosh Defense, meanwhile, is working on a prototype for the RCV on a team that has seven combined years of experience working on the program. In an interview with Defense News, Chief Programs Officer Pat Williams argued this experience was crucial to their offering.
Williams pointed to cooling as an example.
“This RCV is a battery powered vehicle basically in a steel shell,” he said. “So there’s not a lot of room for airflow.”
Years of testing, Williams said, helped reduce the resulting instances of overheating.
Oshkosh declined to provide vehicle specifics. Their model on display at the conference featured a 30 mm turret and payload to counter unmanned aerial systems. Their offering isn’t limited to such systems, though, Williams said.
“This is a payload agnostic platform,” he said. “We can integrate whatever you want on it.”
The General Dynamics Land Systems offering is its TRX (pronounced T-rex) platform, which at the conference supported a short range air defense, or SHORAD, system as a payload.
TRX is a five-ton vehicle with a five-ton payload capacity, according to GDLS. Showcasing it with equipped air defense — usually reserved for larger systems, like a Stryker — was mean to exhibit the vehicle’s versatility, said Ray Moldovan, business development manager at General Dynamics
“It’s not necessarily showing that there’s a pathway for the SHORAD turret, what we’re showing is the capability of the TRX itself,” he said.
GDLS has experimented with other payloads on the vehicle, said Moldovan, including, among others, one that deploys small missile systems, one with an arm to quickly move obstacles, and one that performs autonomous resupply.
“We can take fielded capabilities and adapt them for the uncrewed system and show a little bit of flexibility there,” said Moldovan.
Noah Robertson is the Pentagon reporter at Defense News. He previously covered national security for the Christian Science Monitor. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and government from the College of William & Mary in his hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.