More stronger weapons, as well as German-engineered turrets that can autonomously track targets, might be added to armoured vehicles in the future.
When the US Army goes to war in the next decade, its tanks may be equipped with German-engineered turrets capable of independently detecting and tracking targets. The German military firm Rheinmetall and the US Army’s Development Command inked an agreement on August 26 to work on vehicle weapons, fire control, and ammunition.
Rheinmetall now manufactures a variety of vehicles, including tanks. It also makes tank-like vehicles including the tracked but turretless Armored Recovery Vehicles and the turreted and wheeled Boxer armoured troop transport.
According to Shepard News, the immediate objective of Rheinmetall’s new contract is to figure out how to place a 50mm heavy chain cannon on the Army’s upcoming Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV), for which many firms are vying. The OMFV is a tank-like vehicle that may be operated by humans or entirely automated.
Currently, the heavy armament in the turrets of armoured combat vehicles—which are similar to tanks but smaller and occasionally have human passengers—is a 25mm chain gun. Although it lacks the complete stopping capability of a main tank gun, this type of armament is effective against other weakly armoured vehicles and aircraft.
By switching to a 50mm cannon, a combat vehicle’s main weapon’s effective range is doubled. That gun can combat hordes of people, formations of light vehicles, or even threaten heavier armour with high explosive and armour piercing choices.
The Army received this 50mm cannon in September 2020, but it has yet to be placed on an armoured vehicle. By bringing in Rheinmetall and tying the future of the gun to the future of the OMFC, the Army would be able to avoid the difficulties of retrofitting an old machine with a new heavy armament and instead install it on a vehicle designed specifically for it.
Consider the new Natter 7.62 turret revealed by Rheinmetall on August 17 to get a sense of what Rheinmetall’s turret for the OMFV may look like. This gun turret is a real remote-control weapon station, with a polygon-faceted shell that makes it appear like a weapon from the Halo series of games. A gun, the equipment to rotate and swivel that gun, an array of sensors to locate, track, and adapt to moving targets, and the actual control station that rests in human hands are all included in these stations.
These are bullets that are particularly effective against humans and light vehicles, such as commercial trucks equipped with weaponry in the back.
An infrared camera, two cameras, and a laser range finder are among the sensors on the Natter. One of the visible light cameras, when combined with onboard image processing, can detect movement at distances of over 8 miles, decipher some information at distances of over 3 miles, and attempt to identify the moving item at a range of 1.6 miles.
The Natter brochure mentions “a powerful tracker also enables automated target tracking” and “intelligent support systems” without specifically stating that the weapon can find targets on its own.
Battle is chaotic, full of real-time and contradictory information, and accurately recognising and monitoring dangers is critical to survival. The responsibility of spotting and monitoring threats is shifted from human eyes to cameras and computers by autonomous features, which are characterised here as assisting the human capacity to aim and follow an adversary. A “high first-hit probability,” according to the pamphlet, is exactly what a soldier or commander needs in a weapon. In an impending combat, the greatest defence is to always shoot the opponent first and then get out of the path of retaliatory fire.
Rheinmetall may wind up integrating Natter turrets on current Army vehicles, semi-autonomous capabilities and all, as part of its new Army contract.
Reducing the amount of personnel required to man a gun turret, either in person or in the vehicle, might allow the OMFV to serve as a dedicated vehicle hunter on future battlefields, punching beyond its weight. Autonomous elements, such as those found in existing Rheinmetall turrets, will minimise the human strain of battle management.
These advancements, taken together, point to a future in which human-crewed and human-overseen robot tanks fight alongside one another, autonomously locating and selecting targets for soldiers to fire on.