Will the Ripsaw M5 Become the Army’s First Robo-Tank?

This article about the Ripsaw M5 originally published on Popular Mechanics.

The Ripsaw M5 was developed from a tank featured in a reality TV show.

A new robotic tank designed to operate as a “wingman” was unveiled yesterday at the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference. The Ripsaw M5, originally featured on a reality TV show, has been transformed into a heavily armed combat drone equipped with an autocannon and two drones of its own. Armored wingmen will operate alongside U.S. Army tanks and armored vehicles, doing dangerous jobs to keep humans out of harm’s way.

The Ripsaw M5 Robotic Combat Vehicle was reveahed yesterday at AUSA 2019. Developed by Textron Systems, it is based on the Ripsaw one-man tracked vehicle. The Ripsaw was developed by brothers Mike and Geoff Howe, who starred in the reality TV series “Howe & Howe Tech.” #ad

One of the highlights of the show was the original Ripsaw vehicle. Ripsaw is equipped with a 600 horsepower Duramax diesel engine, giving it a top speed of 60 miles an hour. The Army tested the Ripsaw from 2010 to 2017, but never actually bought significant numbers of the tiny tank.

New Features on the Ripsaw M5

Textron Systems bought Howe & Howe in October 2018. Yesterday, nearly a year later, Textron took the wraps off the fifth generation Ripsaw vehicle, Ripsaw M5. The M5 sports a Kongsberg MCT-30 Protector turret, the same turret installed on the Stryker Dragoon infantry combat vehicle. The MCT-30 is armed with a 30-millimeter Mk. 44 Bushmaster II autocannon, used on the Stryker Dragoon, AC-130U Spooky gunship, and Zumwalt-class destroyers. The Bushmaster II is effective against soft targets, including infantry in defensive positions and trucks, and armored vehicles such as the Russian BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle.

The Mk. 44 cannon can’t kill tanks, but the M5 can instead be fitted with the CROWS-J remote controlled missile launcher armed with Javelin anti-tank missiles. It can also carry a “medium caliber cannon” or anti-aircraft missiles. It can also clear mines with a mine plow or rocket-propelled lane clearing charge, destroy IEDs, and breach obstacles.

M5 is not only designed as a fighting vehicle, it’s also meant to conduct “sneak and peak” reconnaissance missions. The vehicle is equipped with a surveillance turret with both electro-optical (basically, a regular surveillance camera) and infrared night vision cameras with 360 degrees of coverage.

Equipped with Drones

Ripsaw M5 armed with the CROWS-J anti-tank missile launcher and launching a R80 Skyraider tethered UAV. Image Source: Textron Systems.

The mini-tank is a mothership for not one but two types of drones. The R80D Skyraider quadcopter drone pops out of a compartment on the back of a M5. The Skyraider can carry payloads of up to 4.4 pounds, flies at up to 31 miles an hour, and can remain airborne for up to 50 minutes.

The M5 can even carry the SUGV unmanned ground vehicle. SUGV includes a surveillance turret on a retractable platform, allowing it to peer from behind bushes and other cover and has a robotic arm for manipulating objects. It can even climb stairs, making it possible for an M5 vehicle team to scout inside buildings.

The vehicle is also designed for tactical mobility. A YouTube video depicting the M5 rolling into action shows it deplaning from a C-130J transport vehicle and being carried by a CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter.

Potential Uses for the Ripsaw M5

Teaming an M5 with a M2A3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle could lead to some interesting possibilities. The unmanned drone could drive ahead of the Bradley en route to a combat zone, providing security to the manned vehicle and triggering any mines or IEDs first. Once at the front line, the M5 could keep enemy forces under observation while the Bradley maneuvers to their flanks, catching them by surprise. If the Bradley is forced to withdrawal, the M5 can provide covering fire to allow humans to disengage.

There are so many potential uses for an unmanned ground vehicle like Ripsaw, the Army will eventually field something like it. The Army may not buy something like the M5 right away, but then again it just might: the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle program, the Army’s third attempt to replace the M2A3 Bradley is in trouble. Instead of buying a totally new vehicle, the service might instead elect to rebuild existing M2s to a new standard and add M5s to the mix.

Potential Drone Drawbacks

Is the rush to field remote-controlled drones wise? The drones are only useful if friendly forces can wirelessly send them commands. At the same time, high tech adversaries such as the Russian military invest a considerable amount of money in jamming capabilities. So long as American troops can talk to their drones they’ll be able to reap their rewards.

If an enemy can jam a drone’s control frequencies, however, the U.S. Army would be deprived of a major asset it will depend on in battle.

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