DARPA seeks high-tech alternatives to armor


August 20, 2014

GXV-T aims to make tanks half as heavy and twice as fast (Image: DARPA)

GXV-T aims to make tanks half as heavy and twice as fast (Image: DARPA)

Image Gallery (4 images)

As a quick visit to any armored division will make obvious, tanks are big ... really big. A Challenger 2 main battle tank, for example, weighs 62.5 tonnes (68.9 tons) and costs about £4.2 million (US$7 million). And as anti-tank weapons get better, tanks can only get bigger. To avoid armies of tomorrow having to pay for land-going battleships, DARPA’s Ground X-Vehicle Technology (GXV-T) program aims at developing lighter, more agile successors to the tank that protect themselves with more than ever-thicker walls of steel.

Ever since the first tank took to the battlefield during the First World War, there’s been an arms race between gunnery and armor. Some of the first tanks weren't much larger than a modern SUV, yet they produced a revolution in warfare that continues to dominate strategic thinking to this day. Over the years, the guns used to fight tanks became bigger and were then augmented with rockets and missiles, and tank designers responded with thicker armor, composites like Chobham, reactive armor, and even electric countermeasures to detonate warheads before they make contact.

The result of this is a spiral of larger weapons, leading to larger tanks, leading to larger weapons until the mainline tanks of today have become behemoths so large they can only be travel on certain roads and bridges, are very difficult to deploy in a timely manner, and are so expensive to develop, build, and maintain that only fighter planes rival them in cost. If this goes on, tanks could one day become so heavy and costly that they’ll no longer be practical to field. To prevent this, DARPA wants to not just produce a more advanced tank, but one that moves away from relying so heavily on armor for survival.

"GXV-T’s goal is not just to improve or replace one particular vehicle – it’s about breaking the ‘more armor’ paradigm and revolutionizing protection for all armored fighting vehicles," says Kevin Massey, DARPA program manager. "Inspired by how X-plane programs have improved aircraft capabilities over the past 60 years, we plan to pursue groundbreaking fundamental research and development to help make future armored fighting vehicles significantly more mobile, effective, safe and affordable."

GXV-T is intended to pursue technologies that move away from armor with the goal of making tanks 50 percent smaller, needing crews half the present size, able to move at double the present speed, make them capable of operating over 95 percent of the terrain, and make them harder to detect and engage. What this amounts to is finding ways to build tanks that can barrel around the battlefield like off-road rally cars, can dodge incoming fire rather than standing and taking it, reposition its armor to its most effective angle, provide the crews with full situational awareness similar to that afforded fighter pilots, and make them stealthy against both infrared and electromagnetic detection.

To achieve this, DARPA is soliciting blue-sky thinking and new technologies. The agency says that it hopes to see new GVX-T technologies emerge two years after the first contracts, which are slated to be awarded in April next year. These contracts include the development of subsystems in a number of areas, so the new technologies can be fast-tracked into demonstrators.

A Proposers’ Day is scheduled for September 5 at the DARPA offices in Arlington, Virginia.

Source: DARPA

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

Now, this will be interesting to watch as it unfolds...


Such an article is funny from one of the last country in the world not to have adopted automated loaders inside their heavy tanks but continue to rely on a human loader meaning a crew of four under armor instead of three. One has also to remember that soviet tanks have been lighter (40t), more agile, with smaller turrets and autoloaders since the sixties ...


the idea of scaling down and going more mobile is precisely the reason the tank was able to supplant horse drawn artillery around a maze of trenches and forts.

the tank was a mobile mini fort. it still is. tanks actually do a large part of their tactical job when they are not moving and just sitting, parked, waiting for orders.

to 'replace' the tank, one must first conceptualize the forces tactics and strategies that define the group of distinct modern battlefields, --urban, suburban, mountainous, rural, coastal, -----those areas with anti-aircraft weaponry and those without, etc...

it is not likely that a single or even group of weapons will replace the 'tank' so much as the operations and combinations of weapons and behavior replacing a large portion of the situations in which tanks operate .

obviously---once you 'unmann' a vehicle , it doesn't need as much armor and weight for life support systems and fire supression.

unmanned high speed mine sweeping convoy leading vehicles----'trailblazers' are still manned tanks!. there are plenty of low hanging fruit in the world of military technological replacements.

finding ways of replacing the 'tank' are superfluous. all the military technologists need to do for the time being is find manned specialties that can be replaced with drone or autonomous ground vehicles until fewere and fewer human beings are necessary for operations. ultimately the same outcome will result-----which is the planned obselence of tanks for once necessary tasks.

as tanks are required for fewere and fewere tasks, they can eventually be phased out or directly replaced by the final link in the puzzle.


@ Deres The human loader is faster and less likely to have a problem that keeps the gun from firing. Quickness is a function of power to weight ratio. Also tanks take a phenomenal amount of maintenance.


@ Deres

I don't know if their current versions are any better, but the Russian auto-loader designs of the cold war era were rubbish.

They were frequently disabled by the crew due to faults, had a tendency to "eat" the gunners arm if they weren't careful and got in the way, and were much slower than a well trained American tank crew.

From the T 90 entry in Wikipedia: "Like other modern Russian tanks the 2A46M in the T-90 is fed by an automatic loader which removes the need for a manual loader in the tank and reduces the crew to 3 (commander, gunner, and driver). The autoloader can carry 22 ready-to-fire rounds in its carousel and can load a round in 5–8 seconds."

Thanks to the carousel with exposed charges, if enemy fire penetrated the hull, the whole lot would go up together.

A good US crew could fire 3 rounds in ten seconds and be starting on round 4, while the Russian tank with auto-loader would just be coming ready to fire shot number 2.

It's also been suggested that 4 is a good number to have for a tank crew, as it provides enough personnel for heavy maintenance, guard duty etc when in camp.

And didn't the Russian tanks perform well against the Americans in the Iraq wars!


Israel already has a system for this - the Trophy defense system - couple this with some automonous drones that can self dock for charging and you can add in some additional capability of a grid network around hte vehicle which can even sacrifice themselves etc.


From many points of view, zevulon has it about right in my admittedly inexpert opinion. However, I think that there is one flaw in his/her analysis, and I have no idea how to get round it.

We need to keep the final phase of any battle/war only achievable by having 'boots on the ground'. This would ensure that infantry lives are put at risk. This is essential if we are going to avoid a whole load of politicians voting for endless war in return for campaign contributions from the industrial military complex, who would reap massive rewards from such a policy. Body bags and the rituals associated with the return of fallen warriors are about the only things that will raise public opinion against such a nightmarish situation. Lose that, and we face the dystopian future so often portrayed in the cinema.

Callous, yes, but realistic too, I hope.

Mel Tisdale

Well, I just hope this all new, lightweight, highly manoeuvrable machine has the ability to land on its wheels every time if, indeed, when it hits an EOD.


@Grunt - that's easy; they just need to make it out of cats.


Where would the banking oligarchs that lend money for wars and killing machines be if terrorists and the enemy du jour disappeared?


This is a reboot of the vehicle part of Future Combat Systems. FCS would have relied on an active defense system such as the Israeli Trophy/ASPRO-A. That tech was immature so the Army briefly contemplated an extremely heavy Ground Combat Vehicle. DARPA's comprehensive approach may or may not result in a truly different result.

The loader is a valuable member of an M1 tank crew. It's not just that he's faster & more reliable than a mechanical loader. He helps with front-line maintenance. He has a 3rd set of eyes to detect threats & a 3rd machine gun to respond to them. More advantages than disadvantages with currently available tech.


Speed is Armor has been tried before; The HMS Hood blue up.


I would think interlocking plates of kevlar coating over carbon tube 3 Dimensional mesh that is injected with aero-gel would work well, but perhaps not for tanks but for personnel. On the note of damage though you can get it via mass and velocity. pehaps upping the velocity is worth more than the weight (i.e. rail guns)


I don't know a lot about tanks or warfare but wouldn't the obvious path of development for tanks be to make them remote contolled. Get rid of onboard personnel and just make them fairly light armoured mobile guns and make thousands of them. I assume that would make the firing rate high enough...

Conny Söre

people seem to think robots will be fighting robots in the future and that's a good thing. the reality is they will be coming for you. weapons are becoming more lethal metals are getting harder and were moving faster than ever before, yet we still live in these frail body's. i think DARPA should be working on way's to protect the individual before anything else. and this may solve more problems than we know.


The variables in tank design are: Armour, Firepower and Mobility. However fast your tank goes it cannot dodge bullets! With APDS velocities exceeding 1500 metres per second and computerized predictive targetting against a tank moving at best, 25 metres per second, the outcome is obvious! Also, if crewed what fighting performance is realistic after travelling at these speeds cross country? The tank is also highly vulnerable to lone infantrymen armed with ATGW and airstrikes! Back to the drawing board chaps!


It is a cool idea, but IMHO, most of the benefits of the design are lost on an automated battlefield.

Small and maneuverable counts when you're trying to dodge something a human is aiming. Against missiles with radar/IR terminal guidance? Not so much. There are also all sorts of air-dropped nasties that have the potential to wipe out armour of any size.

I don't see this becoming a success branch in armour evolution. But it has great potential for extending a security area well beyond the area it's feasible to actively patrol on foot, though. Especially if it mounts IR detection systems or an anti-personnel radar.


@Mel: Following your line of reasoning, the best way to avoid war would be to send our soldiers into battle unarmed. That would increase the casualty count, and thus discourage war!

Or would it? The flaw with your argument is that you assume an unilateral move will magically become bilateral.

Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles