Army builds robot attack tanks and ground war drones

File photo – Troopers with the U.S. Army, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division from the fire of the main gun round at a target during unit gunnery practice with newly acquired M1A1-SA Abrams tanks at Fort Stewart, Georgia, USA. 29 March 2018. Photo taken on 29 March 2018. (U. S. Army/handout via REUTERS)

The Army is engineering high-tech autonomy kits designed to give “robot” tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles, an ability to work with little or no human intervention, the bringing of new tactical and operational dimensions to the future of the fighting on the ground.

The unmanned systems, which is used in a rapidly changing, high-threat ground combat operation, could allow robot vehicles for the transport of supplies, test enemy defenses and even fire weapons, while all manned vehicles that operate at a safer distance.

“A kit of hardware and software that can be installed in various ground platforms to increase the level of independence,” Osie David, Chief Engineer for the Mission, Command, Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, told the Warrior Maven in an interview.

The technology kits, that can integrate in a small unmanned ground vehicle, or a wide range of larger combat vehicles, new computer algorithms, on-board processing and artificial intelligence to collect and organize sensor information.

“Ground combat autonomy is the most difficult level of autonomy possible. You talk about the shift of the terrain and the change of enemy movements,” Maj. Gen. John Ferrari, Director, Program Analysis and Evaluation, the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-8, told the Warrior Maven in an interview.

Robot vehicles, often referred to by the Army weapons developers in the context of “manned-unmanned” to work together, are a rapidly growing part of the development calculus when it comes to the future combat platforms.

With unmanned assets operating in conjunction with manned assets in the fight introduces a range of new tactics available to commanders. As a robot “scout” vehicles able to operate in a forward mode to identify enemy threats to test defenses, manned tanks would be able to operate at lighter weights, which makes them faster and more maneuverable in battle.

In fact, senior Army weapons developers have told Warrior Maven that virtually all future combat vehicles now in development is likely to be equipped with several new levels of autonomy.

With the help of things such as integrated infrared optical payloads, unmanned vehicles can make use of machine-learning technology to be the key fight details, to independently organize and send information to a man in the role of command and control, David explained.

AI enables computers to directly take advantage of huge databases with millions of pieces of information to perform real-time data analysis for the sending of useful information for the control of the commanders.

The advantage is that the combatant commanders quickly integrated intelligence, or sensor information from a number of sources, analyzed, and compressed for faster decision-making.

“Instead of sending data back up to a command post, the autonomy kits can enable sensors to perform detection and object identification in real time…and push that information to a human being,” said David.

Also, advanced and integrated sensors, reinforced by the AI, and higher levels of autonomy, the antenna and the ground assets to another ID, and hand / off-targets, sends real-time video of the nearby enemy activity or provide other intelligence data of the vehicle crews.

It is certainly within the domain of the technically feasible is it for a future tank for the simultaneous control of a small fleet of unmanned robot “wing man” vehicles that are designed to penetrate enemy lines, while minimizing the risk for the soldiers, ammunition, transport, or performing long-range reconnaissance and scout missions.

In fact, the Army modernization strategy documents specifically cite autonomy enabled platforms, speed, and agility as fundamental to the future of armored warfare.

“If the armored BCT fields of new systems, will replace main battle tanks, howitzers, and mortar indirect fire platforms. Far-term initiatives are aimed at resolving the absence of the armored BCT’s ability to achieve a rapid deployment. The Army is investigating the feasibility and application of autonomous and semi-autonomous subsystems, manned and unmanned, together to work and autonomy on combat platforms,” the Army documents read.

CERDEC and other Army entities are working on these projects with the Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center prototype, test and advance these technologies. The current effort is an extension, or the next generation, and repetition of a previous TARDEC effort described as “leader-follower” algorithms. This technology, developed and successfully tested in the past few years, an unmanned tactical truck, or other vehicle to accurately follow a manned vehicle to the front.

The concept of “leader-follower” algorithms for the vehicle members of the crew so that they can focus on other pressing, threat-aware tasks without having to devote all their energy to navigate in the car. These newer kits, however, the concept of autonomy to a whole new level, making the unmanned systems to maneuver quickly in response to rapidly changing combat on the ground conditions – without human intervention.

The current “autonomy kits” effort is a new Army program, scheduled to get traction and start testing this year, the Army, the developers said.

“TARDEC will decide which platforms will be used. A type of tank being evaluated, as well as smaller platforms,” David explained.

David explained that the autonomy of the kits are now also working on the Army’s Next Generation combat vehicle program – a future combat vehicle effort planning engineer new platforms for the 2030s and beyond.

“We are closely associated with them (NGCV) and we are looking at how we can use this kit on these future platforms,” he explained.

The kits are also designed to ensure that combat vehicles can continue to function in the event that the GPS communication are jammed or destroyed by enemy forces. Gyros, and accelerometers, for example, can help troops navigate in the absence of GPS, David explained.

“These technologies are focused on how to actually navigate and detect your position in a GPS denied environment where there is challenging terrain, or an enemy is jamming,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven.


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