US military targets revolutionary new tank designs

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The U.S. military is planning a new type of high-tech tank which will use less armor but provide greater mobility to troops and present a much smaller target to enemies.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched a program called Ground X-Vehicle Technology (GXV-T) which aims to revolutionize mechanized warfare. Since tanks made their combat debut during the First World War, more protection has typically meant adding more armor.

Now, however, the ability of weapons to penetrate armor has advanced faster than armor's ability to withstand the weapons, according to DARPA. "GXV-T's goal is not just to improve or replace one particular vehicle - it's about breaking the 'more armor' paradigm and revolutionizing protection for all armored fighting vehicles," said DARPA Program Manager Kevin Massey, in a statement.

DARPA is pursuing what it describes as "a layered approach to protection" that uses less armor more strategically and improves vehicles' ability to avoid detection, engagement and hits by enemy forces.

Massey hopes to emulate the success of the longstanding X-plane program which tests new airplane and helicopter designs. "Inspired by how X-plane programs have improved aircraft capabilities over the past 60 years, we plan to pursue groundbreaking fundamental research and development to help make future armored fighting vehicles significantly more mobile, effective, safe and affordable," he said.

In an e-mail to, DARPA cited the success of X-plane projects, such as X-29, which first demonstrated the advantages of strong, lightweight composite materials that now are commonly used in military and commercial aircraft.

Compared to today's armored fighting vehicles, GXV-T aims to reduce vehicle size and weight by 50 percent and also reduce the onboard crew needed to operate the vehicles by 50 percent. Other goals include increasing vehicle speed by 100 percent and the ability to access 95 percent of terrain, particularly off-road environments. Another key element of the program is reducing the "signatures" that could disclose a vehicle's position to enemy forces, such as noise, infrared and even electromagnetic data.

DARPA also gave the ability to perform "agile motion," or dodging incoming missiles, as an example of potential GXV-T technology. Others include novel track/wheel configurations and automation of crew functions similar to commercial airplane cockpits.

"For the purposes of GXV-T, agility includes the ability to quickly react to threats, dodge them or rapidly change direction or speed," explained a DARPA spokesman, in an email  to

Clearly keen to tap into new sources of innovation, DARPA is "particularly interested in engaging nontraditional contributors to help develop leap-ahead technologies," according to the statement on the agency's website.

The agency will be holding a Proposer's Day for contractors to find out more about GXV-T at its offices in Arlington, Virginia on Sept. 5. Initial contract awards are currently planned for on or before April 2015, with GXV-T technologies to be developed over the following 24 months.

The pace of innovation in military vehicles is rapid. Recent developments include glass that is 50 percent stronger than the hardest glass currently installed on military vehicles, enhanced networking, and a flying dune buggy for special operations.

Last year manufacturer Supacat launched its Light Reconnaissance Vehicle 400 (LRV 400) prototype, an off road military vehicle designed in partnership with race car designers.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers