Army to test and shoot weapons at new Mobile Protected Firepower prototypes

The Army plans to fire guns, rockets and cannons at prototypes of the emerging Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle to prepare the fast-tracked platform for major mechanized warfare, service officials explained.

The attacks, expected to include RPGs, crew-served weapons, small arms fire and various kinds of cannons and land-rockets, are intended to fully and accurately replicate combat as part of upcoming soldier “lethality tests” of its new MPF platform, Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, Director, NGCV Cross-Functional Team, told reporters.

“We will take these vehicles and shoot at them to see which ones can absolutely protect our soldiers,” Coffman said. “The soldier user test will execute likely missions that an IBCT will have in full-scale combat. This includes the use of mechanized war vehicles in the close-in-fight.”

Part of these assessments, which include move-to-contact missions, assault exercises, medium range fire on static and moving targets – and mobility tests across rigorous, uneven terrain. Army developers will also look at expanding the anticipated mission requirements for the MPF, to include counter-air attacks on enemy drones and helicopters, Coffman added.

“MPF has a large cannon that would be effective against rotary wing. That would be beneficial – we are going to look at it,” Coffman said to Warrior Maven.

The prototype Mobile Protected Firepower vehicles will soon be arriving through the Army’s Rapid Prototyping deal with BAE Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems. Each vendor will deliver 12 prototype vehicles for testing and development, a key step toward a 2022 “down-select” to one vendor and the eventual construction of 504 vehicles.

The MPF is being accelerated to war, in part to meet a pressing need for mobile firepower to support rapidly advancing light infantry. Army assessments found that Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs) lack the maneuverable firepower needed to destroy fortified enemy positions, bunkers, light armored vehicles and heavy machine gun positions.

A Congressional Research Report from October of last year reached a similar conclusion, explaining that current infantry lacks the requisite attack and mobility requirements.

“The IBCT lacks the ability to decisively close with and destroy the enemy under restricted terrains such as mountains, littorals, jungles, subterranean areas, and urban areas,” the CRS report states.

The Army’s fast-tracked plan for the MPF requires a dual-pronged acquisition approach for the service, which wants to both harness the best available weapons and technologies today – while also engineering a vehicle to be successful in war 20-years down the road. While the testing and developmental assessments are intended to be thorough, the Army plan is to prepare the platform for war on a massively expedited time frame, intended to circumvent some of the more lengthy and bureaucratic hurdles known to encumber the traditional acquisition process.

For instance, as a way to make use of readily available technologies and circumvent certain lengthy acquisition milestones, the program will not have a formal Preliminary Design Review and Critical Design Review

“One of our biggest challenges is to continue to upgrade our current platforms for anything we may go to war with today at the same time making sure we put the proper investments into our future abilities – so we are ready for the fight after next,” Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, told Warrior Maven in an interview.

New precision targeting on historic .50-cal machine gun can hit enemy drones

The Army is revving up development and delivery of advanced targeting technology for its .50-cal machine gun to increase precision, widen the mission envelope and destroy challenging targets such as enemy drones, low-flying aircraft, light-skinned armored vehicles and troop concentrations.

Senior Army officials say the service’s Rapid Equipping Force has been fast-tracking improved “slue-to-cue” technology, new sensors and emerging radar-based targeting technology to give the .50-Cal more precision accuracy.

In service for decades, the .50-Cal has naturally been thought of as largely an area weapon able to lay down suppressive fire, enabling troops to maneuver by blanketing enemy targets with rounds. The weapon of course still has this function, yet technical efforts are underway to make .50-Cal targeting more precise, such that it could shoot down swarms of quadcopters or other commercially avail mini-drones configured for attack.

The .50-Cal can fire up to 600-rounds per minute out to ranges of 7,000 yards, with an ideal attack range of 2,000 yards, Army information specifies.

Precision-guided weaponry, such as JDAMs from the air, have been operational for decades. GPS-guided land weapons such as Excalibur 155m artillery rounds or the larger GMLRS, Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems, have been in combat since 2007 and 2008; engineering comparable guidance for smaller rounds, naturally, is a much more challenging task.

Non-Kinetic EW approaches have been used effectively to jam signals of ISIS drones by the Army and Air Force; senior Army officials explained that these tactics would be supplemented by emerging kinetic options as well.

Various technical efforts to engineer precision guidance for the .50-Cal have been in development for several years. In 2015, a DARPA program called Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) demonstrated self-steering bullets to increase hit rates for difficult, long-distance shots. DARPA’s website, which includes a video of a live-fire demonstration of the technology, states that EXACTO rounds maneuver in flight to hit targets that are moving and accelerating.

“EXACTO’s specially designed ammunition and real-time optical guidance system help track and direct projectiles to their targets by compensating for weather, wind, target movement and other factors that can impede successful hits,” DARPA.mil states.

Laser rangefinding technology is a key element of EXACTO in order to accommodate for fast-changing factors such as wind and target movement; since the speed of light is a known entity, and the time of travel of a round can also be determined, a computer algorithm can then determine the exact distance of a target and guide rounds precisely to a target.

Elements of the fast-tracked counter-drone effort, with respect to forward base protection, involves collaboration between the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force and the service’s program of record Forward Operating Base protective weapon -Counter-Rocket Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM).

The historic .50-Cal was first tested by the Army in 1918. The M2 was designed in response to both German 13mm anti-tank rifles being fielded and the thicker enemy armor appearing on the battlefield in Europe, an Army report stated.

After a number of tests, the M2 entered service in 1923 as the M1921. It is a scaled-up version of an older Browning design, the M1917 .30-cal water-cooled machine gun, and, like its predecessor, early variants of the M2 were also water-cooled. Since its first induction, the M2 has undergone a few changes, although the basic action of the weapon system has remained the same.

Remember virtual reality? Its buzz has faded at CES 2019

NEW YORK (AP) — Just a few years ago, virtual reality was poised to take over the world. After decades of near misses, the revolution finally seemed imminent, with slick consumer headsets about to hit the market and industries from gaming and entertainment to social media ready to hop on the bandwagon.

But the buzz over VR has faded to a whisper. At the CES 2019 tech show in Las Vegas, Facebook’s Oculus unit isn’t holding any glitzy press events, just closed-door demos for its upcoming Oculus Quest, a $399 untethered headset due out in the spring. Other VR companies are similarly subdued. HTC announced two new headsets — one with only sketchy details — while Sony has some kiosks for its $300 PlayStation VR set in the main hall.

It’s a world away from the scene a few years ago, when VR products from Samsung, Oculus, HTC and Sony seemed omnipresent and unstoppable at CES. These days, VR is mostly a niche product for gaming and business training, held back by expensive, clunky headsets, a paucity of interesting software and other technological shortcomings.

“VR hasn’t escaped the early adopter, gamer-oriented segment,” said Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder — himself an early adopter who chafed in 2016 at delays in shipping Facebook’s then-groundbreaking Oculus Rift system. Gownder said many existing VR setups are still too hard to use; even simpler mobile systems like Samsung’s Gear VR, he said, don’t offer “a clear reason for the average non-gamer to get involved.”

VR proponents are still dreaming big, although the challenges remain formidable. Shipments of VR headsets rose 8 percent in the third quarter compared to the previous year, to 1.9 million units, according to data research firm International Data Corp. — an uptick that followed four consecutive quarters of decline. Nearly a quarter of a million units of Facebook’s Oculus Go and Xiaomi’s Mi VR — the same stand-alone VR headset, sold under different names in different markets — shipped worldwide in the quarter, IDC said.

Those still aren’t huge numbers for a technology that seemed to hold such promise in 2012 when early demonstrations of the Oculus Rift wowed audiences — so much that Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion two years later. Despite large sums ploughed into the field by Facebook, Sony, Samsung, Microsoft and Google, VR hasn’t yet made much of a dent in the real world.

Some of the biggest consumer complaints involve expense, laggy or glitchy graphics and the fact that many systems still tether the headsets to gaming consoles or PCs. “Technology is still what’s holding VR back,” said eMarketer analyst Victoria Petrock. Upcoming stand-alone headsets like the Oculus Quest could solve some of those problems.

More alarming, though, VR still suffers from a lack of hit software. Many major game publishers have largely avoided the field so far, and venture funding for VR software development has nosedived this year.

SuperData, a digital games and VR market research company owned by Nielsen Holdings, estimates that consumer VR software investments dropped by a stunning 59 percent in 2018, to $173 million from $420 million the year before.

Software makers are retrenching. IMAX said in late December it was shutting down its VR unit. Jaunt, a startup focused on cinematic VR and once backed by Disney, restructured this year. Its new focus? VR’s cousin technology, “augmented reality,” which paints consumer-simulated objects into the real world, a la the cartoony monsters of “Pokemon Go.”

A few games have been modest hits. “Beat Saber” a VR game in which players move a lightsaber to music, sold over 100,000 copies in its first month and became the seventh highest-rated game on Steam, according to Forbes. But such titles are few and far between.

There’s one other problem: VR isn’t very social, Petrock said. There’s no easy way to share the experience with others on social media or within the games themselves, making a VR experience less likely to go viral the way, say, “Fortnite” has. “You have your headset strapped on and you’re in a virtual world but it is solitary,” she said.