The Army plans to present senior service leaders with a series of specific “options” to pursue to engineer a new generation of main battle tanks to fight well into the coming decades, a move destined to incorporate key technical and tactical parameters including new paradigms for sensing, weapons attack and warfare maneuver. The Army is preparing to choose a path forward in 2023 as a first step toward building prototypes of the new tank, called the Optionally Manned Tank.
“We want to generate as many options as possible, so that leaders can make informed decisions when we talk about modernization. I believe we cannot modernize to parity, we must modernize to overmatch,” Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, Director, Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team, told The National Interest in an interview.
Given that future battlefields are expected to be more diverse and filled will new elements of multi-domain threats from sophisticated enemies armed with long-range precision weapons, it is not at all surprising that Army plans for its new tank are heavily focused upon new generations of “sensing” technologies and long-range attack weapons.
“We will need to increase situational awareness to fight a future vehicle in China or Russia. We must look at what our potential adversaries are investing in and what our capabilities will be. When you talk lethally, you have to have the ability to engage and destroy your adversaries at a range that is beyond what they are able to engage and destroy you,” Coffman said.
Maneuvering quickly, remaining undetected, sensing and attacking enemy targets across multiple domains at long distances, Coffman said, are all some of the necessary ingredients to surviving modern war.
“If you dissect the concept of survivability, it includes signature management and it includes height and mobility. How fast can this transition from movement to maneuver. Survive in the nastiest places in the world and fight and win. We will fight outnumbered, so you must possess the capability to fight outnumbered and achieve victory leveraging all domains,” he explained.
Weapons themselves are also naturally fundamental to survivability; they rely heavily upon accurate, high-resolution sensing, data aggregation and analysis for targeting and, as Coffman described it, having enough ammunition.
“We desire a platform with sufficient magazine depth that allows us to fight through enemy security zones and close with the enemy, while maintaining enough residual protection for the crew,” he explained.
The Optionally Manned Tank may likely be faster, more agile and maneuverable than the existing Abrams, a scenario which will require advanced active protection systems to find, detect, track and intercept or destroy incoming enemy fire. While stopping short of suggesting a specific technical solution or detailed approach, Coffman did say the OMT will likely need to incorporate residual armor, electronic warfare and both hard and soft-kill active protection systems to defeat rocket-propelled grenades, long-rod penetrators and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles.
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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.