The Army has halted all experimentation for the Robotic Combat Vehicle program following guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team and Ground Vehicle Systems Center were planning soldier operational experiments in April "to observe, collect and analyze feedback from soldiers to assess the feasibility of integrating unmanned vehicles into ground combat formations," according to a press release sent this month.
This was to be the first in a series of soldier experiments the Army plans to conduct to see if robotic combat vehicles will increase the lethality of ground combat units. For the initial experiment at Ft. Carson, CO, the Army was going to equip a platoon-sized element of 4th Infantry Division soldiers with "Mission Enabling Technologies Demonstrators (MET-D)," the press release said.
However, the service has paused the event in light of COVID-19 restrictions on travel and contact, leaving equipment at Ft. Carson so the team can pick up where it left off when personnel are allowed to return.
Jeff Langhout, GVSC director, told Inside Defense in an interview that once the restrictions are lifted, "we're looking at a couple of weeks before we can be back in the middle of things and back on this critically important experiment and demonstration."
At this time, there is no set time for when things will be back to normal.
"Clearly, this [testing] will be delayed some amount of time . . . but it will still give us the data that we need to learn and then to move into the next phase," he said. "So, if this doesn't go on but for just a couple of months, I think the longer-term efforts will be able to hold. When I say longer term efforts, [that means] the Phase 2 and potential Phase 3 efforts for this Robotic Combat Vehicle experimentation activities."
However, if the current conditions stretch longer than that, the program's schedule will be affected, he added.
Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the NGCV CFT, said the team has already made some progress, having done five virtual experiments with soldiers using a computer simulation and awarding some other transaction agreements.
Meanwhile, the Phase 2 effort is continuing, according to Coffman.
Pratt & Miller, partnered with QinetiQ North America, and Textron "are receiving money and moving out on the vehicles they’re creating for us," he said.
Pratt & Miller-QinetiQ will build four vehicles for the RCV Light variant, while Textron will build four RCV Mediums, and all will participate in a company-level experiment in 2021, the Army announced in January.