Today’s Soldiers and Marines are providing key input to advance the Army’s ongoing Campaign of Learning for Robotic Combat Vehicles.
A dozen Soldiers and Marines, from Fort Hood, Texas, and Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, respectively, spent the last week in October 2020 at the Detroit Arsenal in Warren, Michigan, working with a team of Army engineers and developers working on the RCV enterprise. The engineers were eager to get input from the Soldiers and Marines on how RCVs might be used to cross a river or other water way in a contested environment, in military terms “a wet gap crossing.”
“What made this event rare and even more valuable was the joint collaboration between U.S. Army Soldiers and our U.S. Marines, providing their operational expertise in combat engineering operations and amphibious operations,” said David Centeno, lead at the Emerging Capabilities Office, Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center. “Paired with our robust team of engineers with technical backgrounds in robotics, autonomy, mobility, and with Industrial designers and our industry partners, the Soldiers and Marines were able to develop and depict concepts of operations (CONOPS) for execution of a wet gap crossing operation, using RCVs as part of their formations. These Soldier/ Marine data points for CONOPS will play an important role in informing the development of RCV requirements and RCV future tactical operations/employment.
The team spent most of the week working in a lab at the Arsenal, but made an important field trip at the end of the week – to the Detroit River at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, for a little “walk and talk” session along the river’s edge. As the troops discussed their plans, the engineers peppered them with questions:
“This current is moving pretty fast, how does that affect your plans?”
“There’s no high ground on the island, how would you defend a beachhead?”
While the engineers scribbled notes, the Soldiers and Marines gained insights into how RCVs could be used in conjunction with ground forces in the future.
“I think the biggest benefit that RCVs would bring, is it gives us an opportunity to send a vehicle into a dangerous or compromised situation, where now you would have to send a Soldier,” said Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Goeppner, a master gunner with the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood. “Given the choice, you always want to keep your Soldiers in a position of cover. The RCV would definitely bring a benefit, particularly to a Cavalry unit.”
Goeppner’s thoughts were echoed by one of the Marines on the team.
“The RCV provides an opportunity to gain situational awareness ahead of the unit, without having to send a Marine into an unknown,” said Lance Cpl. Kash G. Radicke, with the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.
The Wet Gap Cross Marine and Soldier Innovation Workshop was just the latest step for the RCV Campaign of Learning, which has now entered Phase II, after a 6-week Soldier Operational Experiment using RCV surrogates wrapped up at Fort Carson, Colorado in August.
“We are in the process now of taking delivery of our first RCV prototypes, both a light and a medium weight variant and we’ll be engaging those in testing throughout 2021, including more Soldier Touchpoints,” said Major Cory Wallace, RCV program officer for the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross Functional Team, which is based at the Detroit Arsenal.
Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the NGCV CFT, said the inputs from Soldiers and Marines is a critical component of the development of these systems.
“Gaining their input early in the process informs our entire decision-making process,” Coffman said. “The more we can learn now, well in advance of any future building project, will ensure we have the right design, with the right technology that our Soldiers and Marines need as a tool to win our nation’s future wars.”
The Soldiers who participated in the RCV Wet Gap Crossing workshop were from III Corps, 36th Engineering Brigade and 1st Cavalry Division. The Marines were from the 1st and 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalions.