Army Upgrades Future Tanks, Artillery & Helicopters

The Army has established a special new technical effort to address the growing extent to which sustainment

And modernization of tanks, infantry carriers, radios, artillery and other weapons relies upon software improvements.

“No matter what weapon system -- whether you're talking about a tank and the amount code such as software code that’s now resident in our main battle tank or our newest troop carriers -- they're all very software-defined because of the platforms that we've integrated into their systems,” said Major General Bruce Crawford, Commander of Communications-Electronics Command.

Crawford explained that software has increasingly played a central role in the maturation and combat effectiveness of weapon systems over the last 15 years of war.

“The capability that we have today in our formation, especially at the tactical level, is night and day, to be honest with you, compared to what we had in 2003,” he said.

Emphasizing that there is not really a weapon system of relevance on the modern battlefield that does not heavily draw from software components, Crawford said the evolution of software applications has changed tactics, techniques and procedures in combat.

“The industrial base that supports the Department of Defense has been using software to modernize, instead of focusing on just hardware as the mechanism by which they've been able to increase capability,” Crawford said.

Software modernization informs the often-used “open-architecture” term, a phrase designed to connote a method of IP standards software and hardware engineered to be able to quickly upgrade as new threats emerge. Such an approach to modernization allows platforms and weapon systems to integrate emerging technologies, such as software advancements, with existing weapons.

Modern radar technologies, for example, are now being designed with common sets of standards such that they can accommodate detection upgrades as threats change, Army weapons developers have explained.

The C4ISR domain is among the areas most substantially impacted by this growth in software; for instance, Crawford cited Army progression from mostly hardware-based SINCGARS radios to software-defined radios able to run multiple waveforms.

Many software-programmable radios have been used in combat in recent years to transmit IP packets of voice, data and imagery across the force in near real-time using high-bandwidth waveforms. The Army’s Mid-Tier Networking Vehicular Radio (MNVR) or the handheld Rifleman Radio draw from a range waveforms such as Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW), Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW) and Mobile User Objective System (MUOS).

The MNVR radio, for instance, ensures wireless communication from mobile vehicles to stationary platforms as forces maneuver in combat. The advantage of this technology, among other things, is that it allows units in combat to establish a “beyond-line-of-sight” terrestrial ad-hoc network because the radios both transmit information and function themselves as routers.

MNVR supports mission command, sensor-to-shooter operations and combat sustainment, an Army statement said.

“Our intent is to use software to operationalize readiness down at the tactical level,” Crawford added. “It would probably be easier to identify those that don't have a software contingent to them. If they don't have a software contingent to them, they're probably legacy and on their way out.”

Artillery is another significant way in which software advances have changed combat, Crawford said, pointing to the Army’s “Fires Center” at Fort Sill, Okla.

“We've gone to software-based technologies that provide a lot more capability in a given weapon system platform. That's a shift we're seeing across the Army. It's really software that is enabling our warfighting capability,” Crawford said.

GPS-guided artillery weapons, such as the Army’s 155m “Excalibur” round first fired in 2007, hinge upon software advancements. The ability to pinpoint targets to within one-meter of accuracy from up to more than 35-kilometers has changed the landscape of modern land warfare.

Giving war commanders this option was a development of particular significance during the counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of a more linear mechanized warfare scenario, U.S. forces were forced to adapt to fighting smaller groups of enemy fighters often dispersed among civilian populations.

A need for precision targeting identification, therefore, emerged as a technology of the utmost combat importance.

“If you go back to pre-9/11, our systems were designed to fight a force-on-force type of conflict. As we faced a new enemy and new tactics, we had to enhance and adapt our software to fight an urban type of fight,” said Medhat Abuhantash, Director of the Software Engineering Center.

Another software-reliant precision weapon to emerge over the last 15 years of ground war was the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, or GMLRS; this rocket also used advanced software and GPS guidance to attack Taliban and Iraqi targets, such as “high-value” enemy leaders or bomb-making facilities, at distances up to 70-kilometers.

Thermal sights in Abrams tanks and other armored vehicles, digital force-tracking graphical mapping technologies such as Joint Battle Command-Platform and even small arms have growing pertinent software components.

Software is at the heart of an ongoing developmental effort called Rapid Target Acquisition which connects soldier night vision to M4 Carbine weapons sights.

Called “Family of Weapons Sights – Individual,” the technology uses a wireless link to show the reticle from thermal weapons sights directly into the night vision goggle display, using the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle III.

This allows soldiers to quickly track and destroy targets with great accuracy without needing to actually move the weapon to their shoulder and head to see the crosshairs through the thermal sights, Army developers have explained.

A key dimension to the “Software Solarium” involves special meetings among senior Army leaders aimed at adjusting to the rapid and consistent emergence of a software-reliant weapons arsenal.

Crawford explained that the cyber domain, including priorities such as cybersecurity, are inextricably linked to software.

“We brought in Army Cyber on the front side of this to have a conversation about how we can create more collaboration space between the development and sustainment of software and the actual cyber enterprise that's building capacity for the Army down to the tactical level,” he said.

U.S. allies are now collaborating with this effort as well, Crawford said. He said he discussed software in personal visits to Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and Korea within the last year.

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