A new unmanned version of the M1 Abrams main battle tank recently underwent testing in Yakima, Washington. The Robotic Complex Breach Concept vehicle, designed to clear minefields and battlefield obstacles ahead of a ground assault, was developed to take humans out of the line of fire for the one of the most dangerous jobs in the military—obstacle breaching and combat engineering.
In ground warfare, defending forces typically develop a so-called “countermobility plan” to boost their defenses. This typically involves the use of stringing concertina wire, digging trenches, sowing minefields, and constructing anti-tank barriers. The purpose of this is to restrict the attacker’s mobility on the battlefield, slowing them down so the defenders have more time to pick them off.
Combat engineers—known as pioneers or sappers in some armies—are tasked with removing these obstacles on the battlefield and keeping the attack going. Unfortunately this means working directly in front of the enemy guns, dealing with dangerous objects like razor-sharp wire and land mines. As a result combat engineers often suffer disproportionately high losses during attacks.
When the U.S. Army developed a new vehicle designed to literally blast and plow its way through enemy defenses, the , it decided only the M1 Abrams main battle tank was tough enough to survive on the front line. The Assault Breacher Vehicle removes the vehicle’s turret and main gun and instead adds a mine plow, dozer blade, ordnance removal charges, and an explosive mine-clearing system.
The ABV can plow through wire barriers, fill trenches, blow a lane through minefields with a rocket-propelled linear explosive charge, and smash anti-tank barriers. The ABV increases protection versus anti-tank rockets and missiles with reactive armor boxes bolted to the superstructure.
A new vehicle, the Robotic Complex Breach Concept vehicle, RCBC takes the M1150 Assault Breacher Vehicle and unmans it, with the vehicle operated remotely by a soldier in the rear. The Assault Breacher Vehicle was already wired with a full suite of outward-facing cameras to allow soldiers inside the vehicle to do their jobs (sticking your head outside a hatch during actual combat would be too dangerous), so these cameras were probably just linked to a wireless networking system. A remote steering and equipment operation system was added to the vehicle and the ABV became the RCBC.
The RCBC is currently undergoing testing at Joint Warfighting Assessment at the Yakima Training Center. The JWA is a field exercise where the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are testing future technologies for possible deployment, including robotic technologies. Army and Marine experience with the RCBC will almost certainly inform future robotic ground vehicle development, especially since one of the requirements for the Army’s M2 Bradley replacement is the ability to operate unmanned.
Incidentally, electromagnetic interference from the JWA is so strong.