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Video Above: Army Research Lab Advances AI to Land Drones on Tanks

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

German armored vehicle-maker Rheinmetall has unveiled a new, next-generation tank reportedly able to fire a larger, more capable 130mm cannon and launch drones, raising questions as to whether the new platform’s technologies represent a huge leap forward.

KF51 “Panther” Tank 

An interesting Popular Mechanics article on the KF51 says the new “Panther” tank can launch four Quadcopter drones, clearly a manned-unmanned teaming technology aligned with cutting edge targeting and Combined Arms Maneuver concepts of operation. 

KF51 Panther Tank

KF51 Panther Tank

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Neither General Dynamics Land Systems or the Army confirm that cutting edge Abrams tanks can launch drones, however it certainly does seem entirely possible given the state of the technology. The Army’s Stryker and GDLS prototypes of its new Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle being evaluated by the Army, are configured to launch drones. It would make sense for an Abrams to have organic aerial ISR built into its infrastructure. 

Through networking advances, Abrams crews are likely already capable of viewing live video feeds from nearby drones, at increasingly lower latencies without data having to first route through a command center. Much of the data processing, or “Processing Exploitation Dissemination” work, can now be done by AI-enabled systems at the point of collection such that key moments of relevance to tank crews such as emerging enemy target data can be identified and organized for human decision makers in a matter of seconds.

As far back as 2018, the Army and GDLS were experimenting with a Stryker-launched hunter-killer drone called Shrike 2. It was a vertical take off drone able to launch from the turret to sense, find, track and even attack enemy targets as an explosive. Then, using a standard video data link, it can work in tandem with an attack missile to destroy the targets it finds. The technology is intended to expedite the sensor-to-shooter loop and function as its own “hunter-killer” system. 

A former Senior GDLS weapons developer talked to Warrior many years ago when Shrike 2 was being integrated, explaining “A missile warhead can be launched before you show up in town. It has a sensor and killer all in one platform. Let’s reach out and kill the enemy before we even show up.”

This example is extremely relevant as it seems unlikely that advanced Abrams tanks would be unable to do something similar, as it is certainly something within the realm of possibility. Certainly overall, new generations of computing enable an entire generation of unprecedented abilities with the v3 and v4 Abrams variants.

Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President - Center for Military Modernization