Sci-fi inspires advanced military vehicle designs

Imagine a vehicle that can actually sweat to improve its stealth capabilities and reduce its environmental impact. Or camouflage capable of adapting to any surrounding environment using electronic ink. 

Well, the technology you may think only belongs in sci-fi movies may be closer to reality than you think.

As part of the The Future Protected Vehicle program, BAE Systems presented hundreds of futuristic ideas to the UK Ministry of Defence in an attempt to improve the effectiveness of lightweight armored vehicles.

And this is not some tiny branch of the Ministry of Defence with limited funds. We’re talking participants from 25 organizations, 567 future technologies and 244 vehicle concepts presented.

The program asked academics, scientists, engineers, and even local elementary school children to give their input and ideas. The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory donated £2 million (around $3.1 million USD) to fund a series of panels to prompt ideas and discussion.

From all of the ideas, 47 of these technologies are actually being considered for implementation to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of these armored vehicles. The idea is to improve safety while making the vehicles more dynamic.

The team took the various concepts and created seven concept vehicles incorporating the new technologies that highlight a certain function.

For example, there were many ideas focused on reducing environmental impact, or creating a reusable model like the “sweating” vehicle that uses water from fuel cell propulsion to “sweat,” therefore reducing the vehicle’s thermal signature and providing water for the soldiers.

Other smart solutions include vehicles with integrated biometrics that would use surveillance to run facial recognition software and modeling software to spot potential troublemakers, making taming a crowd much easier for soldiers.

Aside from the future technology that may one-day be available, the contest brought multiple ideas that are ready to be implemented immediately.

For example, advanced oil filtration, handheld target acquisition technology, and thermo-electric powered generators.

All of the ideas are designed to create smarter, more efficient armored vehicles to help keep soldiers safe.

The seven concept vehicles were:

  • Pointer: An agile robot which can take over dirty, dull or dangerous jobs, such as forward observation to support the dismounted soldier.
  • Bearer: Modular platform which can carry a range of mission payloads, such as protected mobility, air defense and ambulance.
  • Wraith: Low signature scout vehicle.
  • Safeguard: Ultra-utility infantry carrier or command and control center.
  • Charger: Highly lethal and survivable reconfigurable attack vehicle.
  • Raider: Remotely or autonomously controlled unmanned recce and skirmishing platform.
  • Atlas: A convoy system (retrofittable if necessary) which removes the driver from harm’s way.

Ideas identified for exploitation included:

Sweating vehicle: Can use water from a diesel or fuel cell propulsion system to reduce a vehicle’s thermal signature by “sweating” it out through pores in the vehicle skin. That same water could also be reclaimed to enable soldiers to stay in the field for longer.
  • eCamouflage: Allows a vehicle to match its camouflage to its surroundings by using electronic ink – rather like a squid.
  • Integrated biometrics: Eases the workload on soldiers in complex crowd situation such as roadblocks and riots by running video surveillance through facial recognition and behavior modeling software to spot potential troublemakers.
  • Active protection: Intercepts incoming fire or disrupt targeting mechanisms while actuated spaced armor will allow a vehicle to deploy in “compact” mode before extending its armor to provide increased stand-off distance. A version of this is envisaged as employing electro-magnetic magnets to “float” above a vehicle to provide protection from aerial threats.

Quick wins using available technology include:

  • Advanced oil filtration will remove water and tiny particles from engine oil to extend to the life of the engine and eliminate oil changes.
  • Handheld target acquisition devices integrated into the vehicle architecture will improve flexibility and capability.
  • Thermo-electric power generation, which uses the temperature difference between the inside and outside of the exhaust pipe, offers better fuel efficiency, more electrical power and improved stealth.