Turret and tracks be damned, the CV90 is not a tank.
The Infantry Fighting Vehicle from BAE - new only in the sense that it’s replacing Cold War inventory - is a more modest machine, meant for sub-tank roles like anti-tank, air defense, and troop transport. It is, like the Bradley and other IFVs that preceded it, a sort of multipurpose tool in an armored body.
Among the countries looking to replace old machines with the still-in-production CV90 is the Czech Republic. And to make sure it sticks, BAE announced this week that they’re going to use Czech company Meopta to build a SAAB-designed Universal Tank and Anti-Aircraft Fire Control System, or UTAAS.
That’s a whole lot of acronyms, so here’s the gist: it’s a tool that lets the CV90 do the thing tanks and tank-like vehicles are supposed to do best, move and shoot at other moving and shooting things.
Here’s how BAE announced the collaboration:
The modular integrated UTAAS technology provides direct fire capability, which is a critical operational feature. This allows the CV90’s gunner to take aim independently of the vehicle’s movements while the fire control system automatically aligns the gun. In combat situations, this means firing can commence quicker than with conventional target alignment technology, providing a crucial advantage in battle. Meopta’s participation in BAE Systems’ Czech CV90 offering could extend to other future opportunities.
This is a solid slice of press release, connecting the utility of the tool and the broader impact of the suppliers as beneficial for the whole result.
But here’s another takeaway. It also suggests that autonomy for armored vehicles is getting closer to how people imagine tanks already work: a driver that can focus on moving, a gun that can effortlessly hold focus on a foe.
When autonomy comes to war machines, it will do so gradually, like it does here. “Automatically aligns the gun” puts the computer in charge of holding focus on a target, but importantly not in charge of selecting that targeting or making the call to shoot. This is an autonomous middle man, a helper that does the hard part (tracking the target) while leaving the human in charge of the legal parts and deadly parts (finding a target, pressing the trigger). In this way, it joins the long line of already-deployed semi-autonomous weapons, and it keeps with most modern military preferences for always leaving a human in charge of the important decisions.
Still, it’s easy to see how this can go from a weapon with autonomous features to an autonomous weapon. With the CV90 deployed in an anti-air capacity, the targets it may find could be small, unmanned vehicles fielded by either insurgents or professional militaries. A system that can track attackers like that might, in a future modification, be given permission to open fire on small flying robots. Perhaps, it would even receive permission to fire at swarms, the kinds of targets without a human inside.
Autonomy will come to tanks and tank-like vehicles gradually, in small parts and small ways, and then it will be here, all at once, ready for a new generation of similarly autonomous threats.