How Future Combat Systems Will Work

Systems and Vehicles
The Swarmbot is a prototype UGS developed by iRobot in conjunction with DARPA. These autonomous robots can communicate with each other and function as a team.
The Swarmbot is a prototype UGS developed by iRobot in conjunction with DARPA. These autonomous robots can communicate with each other and function as a team.
Image courtesy iRobot Corporation

The FCS project includes the design and development of several different types of air and ground vehicles, many of them unmanned and autonomous. Most of these vehicles don't exist yet, but some prototypes have been developed and demonstrated by contractors. A few are already in use in Iraq to dispose of explosive and perform urban reconnaissance.

Unattended Ground Sensors (UGS)

These small sensor arrays are similar to "Star Wars" droids, but they're not quite as mobile. After soldiers or robotic vehicles deploy them, they will be able to stay in place to do their jobs. Those jobs may include guarding areas of a perimeter, detecting chemical or radioactive materials, providing links in communications chains, spotting targets for other units to fire upon, and assisting in crowd control by directing people to head in a certain direction. They can also be switched on and off to allow friendly troops to move through the area.

Non-line of Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS)

These systems would come in discreet packages containing a computer, a communication system for connection to the network, and 15 missiles. Soldiers can give the missiles their launch instructions remotely, and can further modify targeting once they are in the air.

Intelligent Munitions System

Similar to Unattended Ground Sensors, these robotic units will be deployed to an area to guard it with suppressive weapons. This will aid in troop dispersion, help organize battlefields and force enemy troops into desired positions.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

The FCS plan also calls for four different classes of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs):

  • The Class I UAV will weigh less than 15 pounds, take off and land vertically, and provide intelligence, surveillance and communications relay functions. It will be remote-controlled and portable. Photographer Steve Harding Image courtesy U.S. Army An unmanned aerial vehicle operator prepares a Class I UAV for takeoff during the FCS demonstration on September 21, 2005 at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
  • Class II will be deployed from a vehicle, stay in the air for 2 hours and have a range of about 10 miles (16 km). According to the Army's FCS Web site, the Class II UAV "supports the Infantry and Mounted Combat System Company Commanders with reconnaissance, security/early warning, target acquisition and designation."
  • The Class III UAV will look like a small, simplified airplane. It will take off and land without a dedicated airfield and fly longer and farther than Class I and II UAVs.
  • Class IV will be an unmanned helicopter that can stay in the air and provide surveillance over an area of 47 miles (75 km) for up to 24 hours.
The Fire Scout Apache, an autonomous Class IV UAV developed by Northrop Grumman for the U.S. Army's FCS initiative.

Armed Robotic Vehicle (ARV)

One of the most revolutionary aspects of FCS is the adoption of these robotic tanks. These units will be controlled remotely and provide many of the functions of a manned tank unit. They will offer support for troops with direct fire, anti-tank fire and over-watch fire. ARVs will also increase troop dispersion.

Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV)

These units are already in use in Iraq. Talon robots and Packbots have seen significant action in explosive disposal and urban reconnaissance missions, and future versions will have offensive capabilities.

The "Talon" was employed on January 6, 2005, by the 184th EOD Robotics Team stationed in Baghdad, Iraq.
Photographer: Spc. Jonathan Montgomery Image courtesy U.S. Army

Multifunctional Utility/Logistics and Equipment (MULE)

The MULE will be the workhorse of the FCS. This two-and-a-half ton truck will be able to operate via remote control or as a slave unit following a controlled vehicle in front of it. In addition to hauling equipment, the MULE will have a mine-sweeping configuration and an armed light assault configuration.

Crusher, an autonomous unmanned ground vehicle developed by Carnegie Mellon University, is essentially a prototype MULE. It can carry weapons and drive over a 4-foot vertical wall with 8,000 pounds of cargo onboard. To learn more, check out How Crusher Works.

Mounted Combat System (MCS)

The MCS is probably the most important piece of hardware in FCS, aside from the network. The MCS will replace the M1 Abrams main battle tank and will maintain a comparable survivability rate by using speed, situational awareness and an extremely long range 120-mm weapon to avoid close-up confrontations. Its 20-ton weight means that many MCS units will be able to ship via C-130 transport planes. They can also be parasailed into position if necessary.

To make the fleet more versatile while reducing operations and maintenance costs:

  • Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV) With a crew of two, the ICV will transport nine additional soldiers to the battlefield. It will carry all of their equipment, provide a link to the network and protect itself with a 40-mm weapon.
  • Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon (NLOS-C) This vehicle is will be a mobile long-range artillery unit.
  • Non-Line-of-Sight Mortar (NLOS-M) This vehicle is similar to the NLOS-C, but it will use a mortar as a weapon instead of a long-range cannon. This will give it the ability to provide close support for infantry and use precision rounds to destroy highly dangerous targets. Image courtesy U.S. Army The Non-Line-of-Sight Mortar
  • Reconnaissance and Surveillance Vehicle (RSV) The RSV is a high-tech scout equipped with a host of sensors, radio frequency interceptors, chemical detectors and communications link-ups.
  • Command and Control Vehicle (C2V) The C2V is the mobile field headquarters unit for military commanders. This vehicle offers all the network connections and information analysis tools that field leaders need to make command decisions on the fly.
  • Medical Vehicle – Treatment (MV-T) and Evacuation (MV-E) These vehicles will allow medical personnel and trauma specialists to move with combat units, placing them closer to the battle and allowing them to treat wounded soldiers quickly and evacuate them safely. Image courtesy U.S. Army FCS Recovery and Maintenance Vehicle (FRMV)
  • FCS Recovery and Maintenance Vehicle (FRMV) FRMVs will primarily carry repair and maintenance crews. They also have a limited capability to recover damaged equipment and crews from the battlefield.

The Future Force Warrior

The individual soldier makes up the final element of FCS. Using the latest advances in personal body armor, an on-board computer and built-in networking, tomorrow's soldiers will have amazing situational awareness on any battlefield, and will be able to accomplish military tasks with greater efficiency. Check out How the Future Force Warrior Will Work to learn more.

We'll look at some potential problems with the FCS next.