The DARPA Tactical Technology Office Ground X-Vehicles Technology (GXV-T) program aims to enhance vehicle survivability without up-armoring the vehicle. Demonstrations show progress on disruptive technologies for traveling quickly over varied terrain and improving situational awareness and ease of operation.
For the past 100 years of mechanized warfare, protection for ground-based armored fighting vehicles and their occupants has boiled down almost exclusively to a simple equation: More armor equals more protection. Weapons’ ability to penetrate armor, however, has advanced faster than armor’s ability to withstand penetration. As a result, achieving even incremental improvements in crew survivability has required significant increases in vehicle mass and cost.
The trend of increasingly heavy, less mobile and more expensive combat platforms has limited Soldiers’ and Marines’ ability to rapidly deploy and maneuver in theater and accomplish their missions in varied and evolving threat environments. Moreover, larger vehicles are limited to roads, require more logistical support and are more expensive to design, develop, field and replace. The U.S. military is now at a point where—considering tactical mobility, strategic mobility, survivability and cost—innovative and disruptive solutions are necessary to ensure the operational viability of the next generation of armored fighting vehicles.
DARPA’s Ground X-Vehicle Technologies (GXV-T) program seeks to help overcome these challenges and disrupt the current trends in mechanized warfare. GXV-T seeks to investigate revolutionary ground-vehicle technologies that would simultaneously improve the mobility and survivability of vehicles through means other than adding more armor, including avoiding detection, engagement and hits by adversaries. This improved mobility and warfighting capability would enable future U.S. ground forces to more efficiently and cost-effectively tackle varied and unpredictable combat situations.
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
The GXV-T program seeks to develop advanced technologies in the following four technical areas:
- Radically Enhanced Mobility—Ability to traverse diverse off-road terrain, including slopes and various elevations. Capabilities of interest include revolutionary wheel/track and suspension technologies that would enable greater terrain access and faster travel both on- and off-road compared to existing ground vehicles.
- Survivability through Agility—Autonomously avoid incoming threats without harming occupants through technologies that enable, for example, agile motion and active repositioning of armor. Capabilities of interest include vertical and horizontal movement of armor to defeat incoming threats in real time.
- Crew Augmentation—Improved physical and electronically assisted situational awareness for crew and passengers; semi-autonomous driver assistance and automation of key crew functions similar to capabilities found in modern commercial airplane cockpits. Capabilities of interest include high-resolution, 360-degree visualization of data from multiple onboard sensors and technologies to support closed-cockpit vehicle operations.
- Signature Management—Reduction of detectable signatures, including visible, infrared (IR), acoustic and electromagnetic (EM). Capabilities of interest include improved ways to avoid detection and engagement by adversaries.
Phase 2 Demonstrations - Several Phase 2 contract awardees recently demonstrated advances on a variety of potentially groundbreaking technologies to meet the program’s goals.
“We’re looking at how to enhance survivability by buttoning up the cockpit and augmenting the crew through driver-assistance aids,” said Maj. Amber Walker, the program manager for GXV-T in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “For mobility, we’ve taken a radically different approach by avoiding armor and developing options to move quickly and be agile over all terrain.”
Demonstrations, such as one in May at Aberdeen Test Center, have given potential military service transition partners an opportunity to observe technical progress on the GXV-T program, including:
Radically Enhanced Mobility - GXV-T envisions future combat vehicles that could traverse up to 95 percent of off-road terrain, including slopes and various elevations. Capabilities include revolutionary wheel-to-track and suspension technologies that would enable access and faster travel both on- and off-road, compared to existing ground vehicles.
- Reconfigurable Wheel-Track (RWT) - Wheels permit fast travel on hard surfaces while tracks perform better on soft surfaces. A team from Carnegie Mellon University National Robotics Engineering Center (CMU NREC) demonstrated shape-shifting wheel-track mechanisms that transition from a round wheel to a triangular track and back again while the vehicle is on the move, for instant improvements to tactical mobility and maneuverability on diverse terrains.
- Electric In-hub Motor - Putting motors directly inside the wheels offers numerous potential benefits for combat vehicles, such as heightened acceleration and maneuverability with optimal torque, traction, power, and speed over rough or smooth terrain. In an earlier demonstration, QinetiQ demonstrated a unique approach, incorporating three gear stages and a complex thermal management design into a system small enough to fit a standard military 20-inch rim.
- Multi-mode Extreme Travel Suspension (METS) - Pratt & Miller’s METS system aims to enable high-speed travel over rough terrain while keeping the vehicle upright and minimizing occupant discomfort. The vehicle demonstrator incorporates standard military 20-inch wheels, advanced short-travel suspension of four-to-six inches, and a novel high-travel suspension that extends up to six feet – 42 inches upward and 30 inches downward. The demonstration in May showed off its ability to tackle steep slopes and grades by actively and independently adjusting the hydraulic suspension on each wheel of the vehicle.
Crew Augmentation - Traditional combat vehicle designs have small windows that improve protection, but limit visibility. GXV-T sought solutions with multiple onboard sensors and technologies to provide high-resolution, 360-degree situational awareness while keeping the vehicle enclosed.
- Enhanced 360-degree Awareness with Virtual Windows - Honeywell International demonstrated its windowless cockpit in an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) with an opaque canopy. The 3-D near-to-eye goggles, optical head-tracker and wrap-around Active Window Display screens provide real-time, high-resolution views outside the vehicle. In off-road courses, drivers have completed numerous tests using the system in roughly the same time as drivers in All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) with full visibility.
- Virtual Perspectives Augmenting Natural Experience (V-PANE) - A tactical vehicle offers limited visibility and data for decision-making, especially when moving rapidly through unfamiliar territory. Raytheon BBN Technologies’ V-PANE technology demonstrator fuses data from multiple vehicle-mounted video and LIDAR cameras to create a real-time 3-D model of the vehicle and its nearby surroundings. In a final Phase 2 demonstration, drivers and commanders in a windowless recreational vehicle successfully switched among multiple virtual perspectives to accurately maneuver the vehicle and detect targets of interest during both low- and high-speed travel.
- Off-Road Crew Augmentation (ORCA) - A second CMU NREC technology demonstration, ORCA aims to predict in real time the safest and fastest route and when necessary, enable a vehicle to drive itself off-road – even around obstacles. In Phase 2 testing, drivers using the ORCA aids and visual overlays traveled faster between waypoints and eliminated nearly all pauses to determine their routes. The team found autonomy improved either vehicle speed or risk posture, and sometimes both.
Walker said GXV-T performers are pursuing a variety of transition paths for the new technologies.
Related DARPA GXV-T Program Links:
DARPA Ground X-Vehicle Technologies (GXV-T)
DARPA GXV-T Advances Radical Technology for Future Combat Vehicles
YouTube Video, Demonstrations of DARPA's Ground X-Vehicle Technologies