The U.S. Army has long been on the market for an unmanned combat vehicle that can approach ground fighting in a similar fashion to how airborne drones have revolutionized air superiority. That is to say that the Army isn’t looking for thinking Terminator drones that can make life or death decisions on their own, but rather a reliable and effective platform that can be controlled by a team of operators safely working miles from the fight. It’s with that very goal in mind that Textron’s Howe & Howe division unveiled their Ripsaw M5 at the 2019 Association of the U.S. Army expo (AUSA).
The Ripsaw M5 is a ton-ton unmanned vehicle that’s set to compete for the Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle – Medium contract, which is scheduled to begin field testing in 2021. A similar platform with fewer components will also compete for the Army’s light-vehicle contract as well. Using what is effectively the same platform with different loadouts for the two competitions can be seen as a smart move, as it would limit the supply-line needs of supporting the two vehicles.
“It’s very easy engineering-wise to move the Ripsaw into the heavier scale and completely fulfill the requirements for the medium and then downscale to the light,” Geoff Howe, senior vice president of the firm, told the media.
“Nobody has ever done that for the U.S. Army before, making it truly scalable, so you can say this mission set requirement is going to be we are going to need a payload of 6,000 pounds, it’s going to need this suspension package, it’s going to deliver this payload at this time. Or it’s going to need a 1,000-pound [remote weapons station] system, it’s going to use the same chassis, same suspension components with slight variations and you can scale it down.”
The lightweight version would carry a smaller chassis with less suspension support, as its overall payload capacity would drop down from 6,000 pounds to 1,000. The real benefit here is that the lower-weight iteration of the Ripsaw can then be carried easily beneath helicopters for rapid insertion or extraction of the robotic systems. Once on station, the platform’s long-range FLIR sensors make it especially effective as a surveillance platform as well as a semi-autonomous warfighter.
“We have built the solution that is ruggedized for wartime situations … that gives the customer complete 360-degree coverage,” David Ray, president of FLIR Systems’ Government and Defense business unit said.
Like modern aerial drones, the Ripsaw M5 is capable of traversing terrain on and off road on its own accord, using lead/follow systems designed to follow a lead vehicle or by using way point navigation. Once in the fight, one drone operator controls the vehicle itself, while another mans the sensors and weapons systems.
“Every bit of energy that we put into systems has to be innovative and has to be in the future it has to show progress, and in that, help protect the American warfighter,” Howe said. “In 2006, we were at the D.C. auto show with one of our first Ripsaws, and we bounce forward 13 years later and we have we think one of the best vehicles out there.”
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