Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, US Army, the director of next-generation combat vehicles cross-functional team at US Army Futures Command, Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, US Army, the service’s program executive officer for ground combat systems, and Jeff Langhout, the director the Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center, discuss future manned and unmanned combat vehicle programs with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian. The interview was conducted at the Association of the United States Army’s 2019 Global Force Symposium and Exhibition in Huntsville, Ala., where our coverage was sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here in Huntsville, Alabama for the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Global Force Symposium, the number one winter meeting of U.S. Army leaders from around the world as well as industry, thought leaders, media and more. Our coverage here is sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
We’re positively honored to have with us the combat vehicle brain trust of the United States Army, Major General Brian Cummings who is the Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Vehicles; Brigadier General Ross Coffman who is the Director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team. I think I got that, as part of the Futures Command cross link. And Jeff, yours is much easier, Jeff Langhout who is the Director of the new organization that once upon a time was known as TRADOC [sic] which is —
Jeff Langhout: We’re now the Ground Vehicle Systems Center, formerly known as TARDEC.
Mr. Muradian: TARDEC. I always liked the Tank Automotive Research and Development Center. Guys, thanks very much.
Sir, let me start with you. You’re looking at the requirements for the next generation, whether it’s a tank, infantry fighting vehicle, robotics. Obviously Russia has done quite a lot with Iran and Syria and in Ukraine in sort of demonstrating sort of a heavyweight robotic capability.
As you look at the battlefield of the future, you mentioned cities, but from an anti-access area denial standpoint, it’s going to be, I think the battlefield’s going to be much more brutal than anybody right now even can conceive of it.
From your standpoint, what are the key attributes, manned/unmanned balances, to try to get right so that you’re taking as many troops out of harm’s way but also can deliver that decisive firepower the Army’s always sought?
BG Ross Coffman: Combat is a nasty and dirty place and there’s nobody better at it than the United States Army. We want to maintain that overmatch.
The vehicles that we’re developing, both manned and unmanned, must be able to deliver decisive lethality against our enemies in any environment. We’re developing those vehicles now so that America’s sons and daughters can remain victorious no matter where they fight, and win.
Mr. Muradian: The unmanned piece of it. There were a whole lot of rodeos and experimentations that will be going on. Everybody’s sort of captivated with this. Russia does appear to have fielded some unmanned systems. Talk to us a little bit about what you see from the Russians that you like and what are some of the capabilities that you want to make sure are on the unmanned side of things where the U.S. Army has generally used smaller vehicles, not anything that’s a large, multi-ton vehicle on the battlefield.
BG Coffman: Developing a tele-operated robot is not difficult. It’s done today, as you mentioned Russia, but most countries can execute that capability. But really, that’s just the nascent start to this really, really big endeavor that the United States has taken on in its Army.
We’re going well beyond their capabilities. The system attributes that we’re developing are going to change the way that ground combat will be fought in the future if this is in fact the direction we want to go. Again, we’re conducting experiments with robots because we want to make sure that we are prudent both in the application of the tax dollars in the budget that we’ll be spending, but also want to ensure that our tactics, techniques and procedures are the best for our soldiers to be victorious on the battlefield.
Mr. Muradian: And obviously a multiplicity of exercises happening between now and 2024.
BG Coffman: Absolutely.
Mr. Muradian: Sir, let me go to you. There’s a big RFP that’s coming out. You’ve got to deal with supporting General Coffman in his quest for future vehicles, but then you’ve got this gigantic vehicle force that you have to try to maintain, and you’re actually actualizing some of this. Talk to us about some of the requirements that are coming out in order to try to go to that next generation vehicle. I know the Bradley is one of those systems. Talk to us a little bit about some of what we’re going to be seeing.
MG Cummings: What you’re going to be seeing is we’re doing a great effort with General Coffman about taking a look at what requirements he has for the optionally manned fighting vehicle. We’ve been working hand in glove with industry, with getting the feedback to what he’s asking for. And what you’re going to see in the solicitation that goes out is exactly what requirements the CFT wanted under General Coffman’s leadership, and then those proposals will come later in the year and we’ll evaluate them and do a contract award.
The thing that we’re all concerned with around the Army, with the Army senior leadership is, of course, that balance between what the future looks like and what we want to have as our legacy force and the improvements we’re going to make. We’ll be able to do that with a lot better clarity based on what we’re doing here by looking at the things that are doing well in our future efforts, leveraging things in our current force, and be ready to fight a war near term but also be putting most of our investments in the far term. So it’s a very good balance on how we’re doing it.
Mr. Muradian: And how are you doing the requirements tradeoff piece? At the end of the day you want to be able to be balancing that cost and requirement quotient. Everybody wants to move faster. I think everybody in the United States Army is committed to that. Talk to us a little bit about how you’re going to do that speed/cost balance?
MG Cummings: What we’ve done with General Coffman in the CFT, working with the acquisition community and with industry, is looking at the reaching requirements, what we call objectives, the things we want to eventually get to, and the things that are threshold, the things that are the minimum of what we’ll accept. And then take a look at what the schedules look like, what [inaudible] going to achieve and how much it’s going to cost so that when the RFP goes out at the end of this week it’s a balanced approach with what they’re asking for, for them to be giving us something we want as threshold, but they know where the stretch points are and the value associated with things that are objective.
Mr. Muradian: Your track button is about to hit, so Jeff, let me go to you.
You have an all-new organization here. Talk to us a little bit about how you’re interfacing with the new team in order to be able, because you guys had, there as a sense of just tank and automotive, but it’s actually much, much broader, and this reflects your broader portfolio.
Mr. Langhout: Sure. Actually the advent of Army Futures Command and the CFTs, in my world, has made things much easier because I have a very focused approach now. He sits barely 100 yards from me, both of them sit barely 100 yards from me and we have a very integrated team. So it’s not just me dreaming up new technology I think we might need, it’s bouncing those ideas off of him, he understands what he needs to do for the future, so together we come up with this is what we need to do from a technology standpoint. The last thing we want to do is to put out an RFP that’s got a bunch of unobtanium in it. That’s what we’ve learned from our past that doesn’t work. So it’s really a great team. That’s why you see the three of us here, Team Warren, right? I think what it’s going to do is it’s going to make sure when we go out and ask industry for things we know it’s obtainable in a reasonable amount of time, and we’re not asking for the impossible thing.
So I think it’s really made my job much easier because I’m working on the things he needs me to work on and I can influence the things that I think need to be worked on. It’s just a great partnership.
Mr. Muradian: Jeff Langhout, Brian Cummings and Ross Coffman. Gentlemen, thanks very, very much. You guys have among the coolest jobs in the entire U.S. military. I look forward to coming and visiting with you guys at Team Warren. It would be fantastic.
Thank you so much.