WASHINGTON — The Army will launch a competition in fiscal 2023 for a light robotic combat vehicle and plans to spend nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars over the next five years on the effort, according to the Army’s FY23 budget justification documents.

The Army will continue a phased surrogate prototype program for Robotic Combat Vehicle-Light (RCV-L) with QinetiQ North America, which won a contract in early 2020. The service plans to flow data and lessons learned into its full-system prototype competition.

From FY23 through FY27, the Army plans to spend $698.2 million on both the surrogate and full-system prototype efforts and a software acquisition pathway integral to the functionality of the robotic combat vehicles.

The Army on Feb. 10 approved the rapid prototyping program for RCV-L.

The surrogate prototypes built by QinetiQ will go through three “design-upgrade-test” cycles to include operational pilots, during which soldiers will provide feedback and improved capabilities will be demonstrated “related to autonomous software, system safety, and cyber and spectrum resiliency,” the budget justification documents say.

The three test cycles will begin in the first quarter of FY23 and end in the fourth quarter of FY25. Each cycle will also determine capabilities ready for incorporation into the full-system prototype.

The surrogate prototype — a diesel-electric hybrid — to be built by QinetiQ will include an integrated camera and radar perception sensors and payloads such as the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station-Javelin and tethered unmanned aircraft systems.

The vehicle has a gross weight of no more than 8,500 pounds and a maximum payload of no more than 7,000 pounds with a top speed of about 40 miles per hour, according to the Army.

The service plans to spend roughly $40 million in FY23 to build and test up to eight surrogate prototypes. The Army intends to run an initial six-month operational pilot with the surrogate prototypes.

The Army will then select up to five vendors to provide two bid samples for evaluation for full-system prototypes. The service will release a request for proposals in the third quarter of FY23, according to the documents, and make contract awards to vendors in the fourth quarter of FY23.

A total of about $15 million will be spent in FY23 to award contracts and evaluate those platforms, the documents note.

In the fourth quarter of FY24, the Army plans to choose a single vendor to build the full-system prototype. Testing on that prototype will begin in the first quarter of FY26 and wrap up in the final quarter of that fiscal year.

The service will decide on its next steps in the second quarter of FY27.

Simultaneously, the Army will work toward delivery of the software capability for the RCV platforms.

The service signed an acquisition decision memorandum in August 2021 directing it to use a draft capabilities needs statement as the base user capabilities document for the RCV software acquisition pathway, according to the justification documents.

The Army plans to use a hybrid government-contractor development approach to mature, integrate and secure the software capabilities.

Development and testing for the software pathway begins in the fourth quarter of FY22 and will continue through the fourth quarter of FY27.

A total of about $20 million in FY23 would go toward the software development line of effort.

The Army expects to reach a minimum viability capability release in the first quarter of FY24 followed by three capability releases at the beginning of the first quarter of each subsequent fiscal year through FY27.

The service has been working on concept and technology development for RCVs in the light, medium and heavy categories for several years. This summer, it will put both medium and light RCV surrogate prototypes through a company-level soldier assessment at Fort Hood, Texas.

A Textron, Howe & Howe and FLIR team is providing RCV-Medium prototypes to the evaluation.

RCV-M is also a diesel-electric hybrid vehicle with a gross weight of 25,000 lbs. The vehicle is equipped with a remotely operated 30 mm cannon and has a top speed of over 25 miles per hour.

The service already conducted an RCV assessment at Fort Carson, Colorado, in 2020, but it was focused on heavy vehicles using surrogates.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.

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