Video Above: Army Engineers More Lethal & More Explosive Fragmenting Artillery, Missiles
Regardless of whether it launches and operates drones, dispatches infantry into incoming enemy fire for a straight ahead “close with the enemy” assault or maenevers into mechanized armor attack positions, the new Army Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle will introduce new levels of robotics, sensing, targeting and networking technologies.
Leaders of the Army’s emerging OMFV infantry carrier say the platform will function as both a robotic platform as well as a manned armored vehicle as dictated or required by mission demands. The vehicle is now entering a new digital design phase and is slated to begin production in 2027.
Following an intense and very large competition, the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross Functional Team has decided upon five vehicle-builders to surge into the next developmental phase and build and deliver digital designs of the OMFVs to the Army.
The Army has awarded deals to Point Blank Enterprises, Inc. (Miami Lakes, Florida); Oshkosh Defense, LLC (Oshkosh, Wisconsin); BAE Systems Land and Armaments L.P. (Sterling Heights, Michigan); General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. (Sterling Heights, Michigan); and American Rheinmetall Vehicles, LLC (Sterling Heights, Michigan). The total award value for all five contracts is approximately $299.4 million, an Army statement said.
The new platform, part of the Army’s emerging family of Next-Generation Combat Vehicles, seeks to incorporate the service’s new vision for modern Combined Arms Maneuver. New weapons and sensing precision and ranges coupled with advanced electronics and engineering are expected to deliver a faster, lighter-weight, more lethal and much better networked vehicle than the Bradley Fighting Vehicle it is replacing.
Innovation is Key
Army program leaders explain that the development strategy is aimed at inspiring industry innovators to think creatively about new methods of engineering improved combat performance.
“We're not prescribing directive requirements. We've got characteristics and they're broad. So rather than saying, 'hey, it needs to weigh 41 and a half tonnes,' we say, 'it's got to be able to make it across 80% of the bridges in Eastern Europe,' which gives a lot of leeway to industry. We say that we have to be able to outrange our enemy, rather than saying we want you to come up with a 30, 40 or 50 millimeter cannon,” Maj. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command, told Warrior in an interview.
An Army statement said that following the Concept Design Phase, the Army intends to have a another full and open competition for the Detailed Design Phase (Phase III), with the intent to award up to three contracts in the second quarter of fiscal year 2023.
This initial digital design phase will lay down a technical and conceptual roadmap for an initial OMFV requirements document. While requirements will evolve and continue to be refined in coming years, some early concepts offered by the Army include advanced levels of autonomy, including an ability to operate drones, operate with lethality in “close combat” circumstance in either a manned or robotic capacity and achieve what Army developers call “positional advantage.”
General Dynamics Land Systems
Many of the main competitors, such as General Dynamics Land Systems, say their offering will bring something unique and unprecedented to the competition. GDLS, which builds the well known Abrams tank, emphasized maneuver capabilities and networking technologies which seek to align with the Army’s vision for a versatile and extremely lethal armored vehicle able to instantly connect with drones, aircraft, ground vehicles and even dismounted forces.
“The GDLS OMFV concept will provide significantly improved capabilities to survive, move, shoot, and communicate. Within the ABCT formation, the OMFV concept will transform the battlefield as the key building block necessary to establish a multi-domain common operating picture that allows manned and unmanned platforms to seamlessly share actionable information in real time and vastly improve the effectiveness of the Armored Brigade Combat Team.” Ray Kiernan Program Director, Next Generation Combat Vehicles General Dynamics Land Systems, told The National Interest in a statement.
It will be called upon to absorb incoming enemy fire, deliver infantry directly into high-intensity warfare, operate nearby drones and unmanned vehicles and even itself operate as a robotic vehicle, yet the Army’s new Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle will begin in a digital universe.
OMFV - Digitally Optimized
Weapons range, accuracy, impact and effectiveness can be closely replicated through advanced digital engineering techniques. Technological details and key performance parameters can be analyzed with great accuracy using digital modeling techniques. This can massively expedite the developmental process by making key assessments prior to needing to “bend metal,” and therefore ultimately make prototype construction much more effective.
“We are going to take whatever they (industry) hand us and put that through modeling and simulation. The whole intent is to inform future requirements and not put a nail in any requirement until we have to,” Coffman said. “Once these designs are completed, our Soldiers will engage with the designs and will provide feedback and input to ensure we are providing the equipment they need to defend our great nation.”
Phase IV & "Optionally Manned"
The Detailed Design Phase awardees will transition into Phase IV of the program to build and test actual prototypes. The Army intends to downselect to one vendor at Milestone C (for Low Rate Initial Production) near the end of fiscal year 2027.
The vehicle will be both a robotic drone as well as a manned vehicle to deliver infantry, perform forward surveillance and on-the-move command and control and operate as a backbone in a mechanized armored formation.
“Optionally-Manned” is an operative term here, as the vehicle is being engineered to operate with new levels of autonomy and AI-enabled navigational systems enabling the vehicle to perform high-risk missions without placing soldiers in harm’s way.
At the same time, the OMFV is also engineered to coordinate with the Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle platforms, emerging systems which also draw upon new levels of autonomy, weaponry and advanced computer algorithms. The concept is to offer “options” to commanders who might need to make rapid adjustments amid a fast-moving dynamic warzone.
While many of the specs, specifics and technical parameters remain in flux Army developers have suggested some possibilities throughout the development of the program.
For example, officials have said the new OMFV may operate with a three-man crew, carry six-soldiers in back and ultimately fire a 50mm cannon.
The new longer-range “TOW missile-compatible” weapons may arm the new platform, senior Army developers said, as a way to destroy enemy armored vehicles at a safer stand-off range.
Also, these new missiles are very likely to be configured with newer, more varied explosives able to destroy enemy tanks, armored vehicles and infantry formations to a much greater extent than existing weapons can.
These kinds of new, potentially robotic platforms are already shaping Army maneuver formations given the massive extent to which new technology enables different warfare tactics. For instance, an ability to conduct unmanned forward operations could allow forces to disperse, coordinate targeting from standoff distances and test enemy defenses. Also, an unmanned vehicle could also, of course, with human controllers, conduct attacks and fire weapons. Unmanned systems could also support dismounted infantry in some cases by traversing rigorous terrain and bringing armored support to advancing ground units.
One of the five winning competitors told Warrior that it is engineering the vehicle to embrace new technologies as they arrive over time.
‘GDLS is focused on developing an OMFV concept that will provide an immediate, transformational capability advantage relative to peer adversaries and pave the way to maintain superiority far into the 21st century by incorporating a modular open system architecture and design margins necessary to implement capability upgrades as they emerge and mature,” Kiernan said.
Kris Osborn is the President and Editor-in-Chief of Warrior Maven and the Defense Editor of 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.