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08 Aug 18. UK’s army is testing Milrem Robotics’ unmanned ground vehicles in two programs. Milrem Robotics’ unmanned ground system THeMIS has advanced into next phases in two separate UK Army unmanned systems testing programs – the Autonomous Last Mile Resupply and the Army Warfighting Experiment. MIlrem Robotics’ UGV was selected as one of the winners in the Autonomous Last Mile Resupply competition as part of a team lead by QinetiQ. The aim of the program is to develop autonomous systems that distribute humanitarian relief to disaster areas and deliver combat supplies from the forward-most location (such as a physical base or a logistics/infantry vehicle) to personnel engaged in combat operations.
“Milrem Robotics is delighted to be in consortium with QinetiQ and work jointly on future robotic solutions,” said Kuldar Väärsi, CEO of Milrem Robotics. “Being selected to two separate UK Army programs demonstrates once again that Milrem’S THeMIS unique modular design is much appreciated and provides many advantages to the end user. The THeMIS is the most mature UGV in its size class on the European market and an excellent product for different upcoming programs,“ Mr. Väärsi added.
The UGV participating at the Last Mile Resupply is the TITAN that is a joint product developed together with QinetiQ. It features the THeMIS UGV and a control system developed by QinetiQ.
“QinetiQ is delighted that the TITAN robot – collaboratively developed with Milrem Robotics – is part of our offer for Phase 2 of Autonomous Last Mile Resupply. The proven mobility and payload of the TITAN vehicle make it the ideal recipient vehicle for advanced autonomous driving software that will enable our system to conduct resupply in the most challenging environments,” said Keith J. Mallon, Autonomy Campaign Manager in QinetiQ.
The aim of the Army Warfighting Experiment (AWE) is to identify how the Army can exploit developments in robotics and autonomous systems technology through focused analysis, capability integration and experimentation. Milrem Robotics participates in the experiment with a remote UAV carrier together with UAS developer Threod Systems. This solution features the THeMIS unmanned ground vehicle from Milrem and the multirotor drone KX-4 LE Titan. The system can be used for surveillance and as a communication relay since the UAV is able to ascend up to 80 meters. Because the drone is powered by the hybrid UGV it is able to stay up much longer than untethered systems. In addition, two Milrem Robotics’ UGVs will participate at AWE as part of QinetiQ. One of the UGVs will be equipped with a remote weapon system and be used for assault while the other is equipped with a surveillance mast with land radar and thermal and night vision cameras.
07 Aug 18. Belarus re-arms airborne troops. Belarusian airborne troops are receiving new mortars and armoured personnel carriers (APCs), according to the country’s Ministry of Defence (MoD). In late July, Belarusian Deputy Minister of Defence for Armament and Chief of Armament Major General Sergei Simonenko handed over new 2B23 Nona-M1 semi-automatic breech-loading 120 mm towed mortars and upgraded BTR-70MB1 APCs to the 103rd Independent Guards Airborne Brigade ‘Vitebskaya’ in Vitebsk. An airborne battalion of the brigade received 32 BTR-70MB1s, while two batteries of the brigade’s mixed artillery battalion were equipped with 18 Nona-M1s. “The Belarusian armed forces receive around 100 brand-new and upgraded systems a year,” said Maj Gen Simonenko during the handover of the mortars and APCs. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
07 Aug 18. Côte d’Ivoire parades Belarusian Cayman vehicles. Côte d’Ivoire’s Gendarmerie revealed itself to be the first known exporter user of the Belarusian-made Cayman 4×4 light armoured vehicle when three featured in the 7 August independence day parade. It was announced in May 2017 that the Cayman had entered service with the Belarusian military and the chairman of the country’s Military Industrial Committee said in January that at least some had been exported, although he did not reveal the customers. Russia’s Tass news agency reported on 13 July that Caymans were in the process of being delivered to an African state. Designed for reconnaissance, escort, and patrol duties, the vehicle is made by the 140 Repair Plant in Borisov. It weighs about 7 tonnes and can carry a crew of six. A 170 hp D-245 engine made by the Minsk Motor Plant gives it a top speed of 100 km/h on paved roads. Its amphibious capability requires no preparation, with its waterjets giving it a swimming speed of 8 km/h. Its side and rear armour is said to be equivalent to STANAG 4569 Level 1 and its frontal armour equivalent to Level 2. Côte d’Ivoire’s Gendarmerie already operates French VAB and BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers. It also displayed a BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle on a transporter during the parade. The army, meanwhile, paraded nine new Acmat (now Arquus) Bastion armoured personnel carriers (APCs) in UN colours. Côte d’Ivoire currently has a protection company serving with the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), but this was previously seen operating old British-made Saxon APCs. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
06 Aug 18. Stealthier Tanks Are On The Way. Several tech trends will make tomorrow’s tanks harder to spot — and that may have strategic implications. Truly game-changing technology does not develop in isolation. It results from the convergence of multiple trends and usually the combination of multiple technologies. For example, today’s social-media platforms did not arise from internet connectivity alone. Rather, they evolved iteratively over multiple generations of technological development, incorporating the miniaturization of digital cameras, the increase in portable computing power of smartphones, and advances in cellular connectivity. In that context, a cluster of technological trends may be converging to produce a potentially transformative battlefield capability: “stealth tanks.” This concept is not new and there is no certainty that these new technological developments will fully scale or prove operationally effective. But as these technologies develop they hint at possibilities that warrant serious discussion about their potential application to armored vehicles, as well as their operational and politico-strategic implications.
By “stealth,” we do not mean invisibility. Rather, it is a collection of technologies designed to reduce an object’s observable signature, thereby making detection more difficult. Even if temporary or incomplete, stealth provides a significant tactical advantage. Aircraft achieve stealth through a decreased radar cross section which incredibly complicates detection. For a tank to be “stealthy,” its key observable qualities must be masked or concealed. Specifically, tanks are loud and emit substantial heat. Therefore, constructing a “stealth tank” would necessitate the reduction of these signatures, resulting in a quieter tank with a low infrared, or IR, signature. Of the two, heat is the greatest concern, as most targeting systems use IR. Recent research on ion-soaked graphene sheets provides an exciting possibility. This thin and simple material can shield an object’s thermal signature and even match the surrounding temperature if actively manipulated. Applied to the surface of a tank, graphene sheets could eliminate or significantly reduce a tank’s IR signature. If this concept effectively scales up, of which there is no certainty, it may be simpler and more cost-effective to implement than current options for IR camouflage. IR sensors are ubiquitous among modern militaries and many antitank missiles like the American FGM-148 Javelin are IR-guided. Masking a tank’s IRsignature would therefore make it difficult to both detect and target them with precision munitions.
Advancements in electric vehicles may also contribute to stealth by reducing noise and heat. Currently, a team of defense contractors, including SAIC and Lockheed Martin, is working to construct the first U.S. electric tank prototype; two demonstration vehicles are expected to be built by 2022. Moreover, the U.S. has expressed interest in military vehicles which generate their own electricity. While battery weight is a problem for electric vehicles—especially for energy-intensive tanks that would require substantial battery power—the U.S. could consider a “series hybrid” approach like the original Chevrolet Volt or a “parallel hybrid” approach like diesel submarines. This would require a careful balancing requirements against battery weight and simplicity. Passive stealth is fine, until you need to fire a round and thereby reveal your position. But even here, there are several options for retaining the advantage of stealth. (Of course, “jockeying” and defensive maneuvering to avoid detection and counter fire is, and will remain, a fundamental skill for tank drivers.)In the medium term, advanced networks and sensors, combined with emerging robotics, could create a “gun buggy” model similar to preliminary F-35 operational concepts. In this case, “stealth tanks” would refrain from firing themselves and instead direct remote autonomous platforms to deliver ordinance. These platforms would serve as organic mobile artillery and indirect fire support in a network-centric approach to warfare, allowing the coordinating tank to remain undetected.
In the longer term, there is the possibility of stealthier weapons. Miniaturization and tactical application of early-stage advanced weapons, like directed energy or rail guns, have great potential if they develop sufficiently and overcome their current limitations, such as energy requirements. Directed energy would be truly stealthy in that it bears no visual or audible profile, but it is unlikely to be as destructive as rail guns. An ideal model might involve using both in a co-axial arrangement.
If these technologies are brought together to enable comprehensive stealth for military ground vehicles, the key benefit would be survivability. By evading detection, “stealth tanks” would be much less vulnerable and therefore could gain greater flexibility on the battlefield, opening opportunities for greater operational unpredictability. This concept of “stealth tanks” bears significant politico-strategic implications. Greater survivability reduces political risks and could result in lighter and faster designs that might allow easier deployment, enabling more regular application of that capability. If stealth technology enabled the development of more survivable lighter and faster tanks, they could add firepower to Strykerbrigades, be employed in a wider range of operational tasks, and even contribute to special operations and hybrid conflicts.
Despite the apparent advantages, there are limitations to the implementation of this technology. Significant electrical power is central to enabling most of the technology needed for stealth, but the weight and efficiency of batteries will be a limiting factor. That said, increasing adoption of commercial electric vehicles will likely accelerate developments in this area, and reducing the fuel requirements of the current armored fleet would have significant strategic and operational implications in and of itself. All of aspects of this concept would need thorough testing to explore the opportunities, risks, and limitations of stealthy ground vehicles. However, the convergence of individually interesting, though not obviously significant, technological advancements has the potential to revolutionize one of the most critical facets of land warfare. Comprehensive stealth would have wide-ranging implications for future operating concepts and strategic decision-making. Although decades will pass before anyone truly understands these implications, it is imperative to begin conceptualizing a reality where “stealth tanks” stalk the future battlefield. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense One)
06 Aug 18. M88 HERCULES to the Rescue. When a combat vehicle goes over an embankment, sinks into the mud or winds up disabled in battle, the U.S. Army calls on the M88. That’s why it’s known as the workhorse of the Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT). For decades it has rescued all types of Army vehicles. And it’s the only vehicle capable of recovering the ABCT’s heaviest vehicles, such as the main battle tank, without assistance from another vehicle. The tracked M88 can lift, winch and tow vehicles in the toughest terrains and most difficult circumstances, to get them back to operations or, if necessary, in for repair. The latest iteration of the vehicle is called HERCULES for a reason. As the vehicles in the ABCT were adapted to address emerging threats, like IEDs, they grew heavier, so the M88 required upgrades to meet the needs of the Army. Today, the M88A1 fleet is being converted to the more capable M88A2 Heavy Equipment Recovery Combat Utility Lift Evacuation Systems (HERCULES) configuration in a partnership with the Anniston Army Depot (ANAD). The Army recently awarded our company a contract modification worth $114m to convert 36 additional vehicles as part of ongoing conversion to HERCULES.
“The M88 has a long and exemplary history as a recovery vehicle and we’re excited to be a part of its future,” said John Tile, director of Recovery Programs at BAE Systems. “Providing the Army’s recovery fleet is important to getting disabled tanks and our troops out of harm’s way in the most expedient way possible. We’re already looking at ways to retain that capability as the vehicles in ABCT evolve or get even heavier.”
The evolution of the main battle tank is of particular interest to the M88 modernization team because it is one of the heaviest vehicles in the fleet. To keep pace with weight increases in the tank, further modernization of the M88 will be required to continue to rescue stuck or disabled vehicles with a single vehicle. We are already working closely with the Army to understand future recovery needs, and is partnering with others in industry to find the best technologies and solutions available. When any vehicle is disabled, now and in the future, the M88 team wants to ensure the most capable workhorse in the fleet is prepared to respond.
“We are always looking to stay ahead of the curve to ensure the M88 leads the way when getting a vehicle and its crew out of a hazardous situation and to safety,” Tile said. “That’s the M88’s purpose.” (Source: ASD Network)
06 Aug 18. Bulgaria details armoured vehicle procurement. The Bulgarian Ministry of Defence (MoD) on 25 July placed details online of the project to procure 150 armoured vehicles for the Bulgarian Land Forces (BuLF). The 17-page document was approved by Bulgaria’s Council of Ministers on 16 May. The BGN1.224bn (USD722m) BuLF modernisation project calls for BGN810m to be spent on the acquisition of at least 90 armoured combat vehicles, and BGN414mi on at least 60 special and support vehicles. In addition, BGN240m is planned for the acquisition of related equipment, documentation, personnel training, training and simulation equipment, an automated fire control system for a self-propelled mortar battery, and related communication and information systems. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
04 Aug 18. Estonian war robots could have big implications for future NATO plans. Estonia is building robots for war. And while they aren’t armed, the proposed design leaves plenty of room for a future where unmanned land combat becomes the norm in Europe. As announced Aug. 2, this new robot system will be a collaboration with Latvia and Finland, with possible participation from Germany, France and Belgium. To fund the robots, Estonia and its partners are looking for help from the European Defense Fund. In May, the European Parliament debated whether funding for collaborative defense projects should explicitly avoid lethal autonomous weapon systems, or if instead they should follow the softer guidelines of international law, which as of yet doesn’t govern robots designed to kill. As stated, the Estonia project is about maneuver, logistics, and situational awareness, not lethality. The press release from the Estonian Ministry of Defense is careful to couch the capabilities it wants in terms of support functions, sensors and carrying capacity, autonomy in service of movement not targeting. But regardless, the ground robots are coming to the battlefield, bristling with cameras, ready for the next stage of the war.
“An unmanned land vehicle, along with an autonomous control system, cyber defence solution and integrated network of sensors, will be developed within the framework of the project,” the Estonian Ministry of Defense says in the release. “The system’s initial functions are associated with improving situational awareness on the battlefield and raising the level of efficiency of the maneuvering and transportation capabilities of troops.”
Like the development of uncrewed flying vehicles before them, it is safe to expect uncrewed ground vehicles to start as an unarmed capacity. It makes sense for them to begin as sensor platforms that assist humans but don’t fire weapons of their own. But what if military planners decide that in the future, they will require an armed machine? At that point, it will be left to the engineers and oversight commissions to figure out the degree to which a human is involved in the process of lethal decision making. And it is worth noting that Estonia’s own military robot company, Milrem Robotics, already makes armed tracked unmanned vehicles. This includes target tracking systems but appear to still require human operators before firing. Compounding this is the already-visible robotics projects of neighboring and nearby countries as well as a lack of international norms. In May, Russia claimed a successful demonstration of the armed and unmanned Uran-9 robot in Syria, though the results were not particularly impressive. Yet development of possibly armed autonomous machines continues apace, and it seems possible Russia will field multiple armed autonomous machines before there’s an international prohibition in place. Nearby Belarus, too, is testing armed robotic vehicles, suggesting this is not a one-country problem but an international one. Then there is the matter of NATO. Estonia and Latvia are both formal members of the alliance, and Finland is a frequent NATO collaborator. The development of autonomous ground robots by nations that share a border, are skeptical of each other, and belong to competing military alliances is a situation that carries the risk of escalation the moment those robots are armed.
It is not hard to picture a scenario where rival armed robots, using autonomous targeting features, train weapons on each other in a defensive posture, and then through a misinterpretation of signal or erroneous sensor reading or simply faulty coding open fire. Even nations that have explicitly stated a refusal to employ lethal autonomous weapon systems, and nations that are on record about the strong importance of meaningful human control and human-in-the-loop safeguards, could find themselves drawn into a conflict because one robot didn’t like the way another robot looked at it. These are questions that nations like the United States should be thinking about when it comes to allies developing autonomous systems. Greater autonomy among allies can lead to greater risk as actions taken with that autonomy pull allies into conflict, as defensive systems misfire and get interpreted as offensive acts. The robots may reduce the number of humans physically needed for operations or patrols, but the robots don’t reduce at all the need for human control and human oversight of those actions.
It is in that greater context that Estonia, and Finland and Latvia, are looking at joining the race for autonomous uncrewed ground vehicles. Nothing within Estonia’s bid for robotic development suggests that the robots it builds will be armed, but it’d be short-sighted to only look at trends within its borders for what defensive needs the country may have. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
03 Aug 18. These Baltic nations could build Europe’s next ground drone. As European Union nations look to step up their defense-industrial projects, a trio of states on the Baltic Sea are looking to make a breakthrough in unmanned ground systems. Estonia, Latvia and Finland are pushing to develop land-based drones under the EU’s Permanent Structure Cooperation framework, or PESCO, the nations announced Thursday. Between €30-40m (U.S. $35-47m) has been earmarked for use from the European Defence Fund to work on the project, while each of the three countries will contribute additional funds. The start date for the planned project is the first half of 2019. Launched in late 2017, PESCO seeks to help develop European-wide defense industries. Groups of nations can pitch the EU on different developments in order to secure initial funding from pooled resources. Although in its early stages, PESCO has been the topic of American concernover the potential of protectionist actions taken by the European defense market that could lock out American firms. EU nations are now looking to carve out market areas that could benefit their domestic defense-industrial bases, something acknowledged directly by Kusti Salm, director of the Estonian Defense Ministry’s Defence Investments Department.
“The same considerable growth that we saw with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) 10-15 years ago can be expected in the near future for unmanned land platforms,” Salm said in a statement. “The project’s ambition is, in cooperation with partners, to develop a solution for unmanned land systems, which would become the European standard.”
The list of partners on that project could grow if Germany, France and Belgium sign on; all three nations have expressed interest, the statement said. The system being considered appears to be designed as a semiautonomous companion for soldiers on the ground, which can reduce the load being carried and increase decision-making speed. In addition to an actual vehicle, the project would develop an autonomous control system, a cyber defense solution and an integrated network of sensors. Ahead of the project, Estonia has started a research and development project, in cooperation with nine industrial partners, looking at how to raise the tactical level of unit combat capabilities for unmanned systems. Although unnamed, it is likely Estonian firm Milrem will be involved in the project. The company has spent several years marketing its THeMIS unmanned ground vehicle, which has capabilities in line with what was mentioned in the government statement.
Salm noted that a “reliable system is not exclusively vehicle oriented. True innovation emerges from the autonomous control system, and integration with sensors and other manned and unmanned platforms.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
Millbrook, based in Bedfordshire, UK, makes a significant contribution to the quality and performance of military vehicles worldwide. Its specialist expertise is focussed in two distinct areas: test programmes to help armed services and their suppliers ensure that their vehicles and systems work as the specification requires; and design and build work to upgrade new or existing vehicles, evaluate vehicle capability and investigate in-service failures. Complementing these is driver and service training and a hospitality business that allows customers to use selected areas of Millbrook’s remarkable facilities for demonstrations and exhibitions.