Tank Tussle: Defense Contractors are Fighting Over the Future of Ground Warfare

The U.S. Army is giving the defense industry a lot of creative leeways when it comes to engineering its new Bradley Fighting Vehicle replacement infantry carrier, the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV). 

The Army has a broad set of parameters for the capabilities of the new vehicle. But it is letting industry innovators take control of the vehicle design and the configuration of its technologies.

“We want to learn from their designs,” Maj. Gen. Ross Coffman the director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team for Army Futures Command, told reporters at the 2021 Association of the United States Army annual symposium. “We established what we believe are the best requirements. There are some things we think should be mandatory and other things which are left as open options for industry as trade space. When we get this in the hands of soldiers, we can compare performance costs and get the best equipment for soldiers. We are paying companies to come up with the best version of their idea.”

Clearly, the vehicle will need to perform unmanned missions. The Army has not specified exactly how many soldiers each vehicle should be able to carry or what types of weapons capability it should have. For example, the Army may arm its new infantry carriers with a 30-millimeter cannon or a 50-millimeter cannon. Perhaps it will simply equip the vehicle with a turret that is able to quickly exchange between the two as required by a mission.  

There are five industry teams working intensely to refine their digital designs so that they are sufficient to meet Army criteria. They will put forth proposals or “suggested’ Ideas for the Army to consider. Some of the defense contractors will arm their OMFVs with anti-drone missiles, heavy cannons, anti-tank weapons or even lasers. Some of them will launch and recover drones.  

The vehicle will need to be able to conduct manned-unmanned teaming operations. The Army may use a manned OMFV to control a small fleet of drone vehicles and direct them to deliver ammunition, conduct forward surveillance, test enemy defenses or even conduct offensive strikes on enemy formations. Perhaps the military service could use the OMFV to operate as an autonomous robotic vehicle that can fire cannons with input from human decisionmakers or penetrate enemy armored fortifications without placing soldiers at risk.

The OMFV will likely have anti-tank missiles, counter-air weapons, recoverable attack drones, or other weapons, but it will primarily be engineered for networking. This means its ability to succeed in manned-unmanned teaming operations will be determined by the success with which it can gather, process and transmit time-sensitive data in combat.  

Kris Osborn is 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 Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. 

Image: Flickr / The U.S. Army

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Kris Osborn