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19 Dec 18. Russia begins deliveries of upgraded T-72B1 MBTs to Laos. Russia has begun deliveries of upgraded T-72B1 main battle tanks (MBTs) to the Lao People’s Armed Forces (LPAF), an LPAF source told Jane’s on 19 December.
“A large batch of T-72B1 ‘White Eagle’ [Belyi Oryol] MBTs was shipped to a Vietnamese port several days ago. The tanks will soon be brought to Laos via tank transporters,” said the source on condition of anonymity, adding that the LPAF is set to receive “several dozen” tanks.
The move comes after Laotian Defence Minister Lieutenant General Sengnuan Xayalat told Russian broadcaster Zvezda that the LPAF would receive Russian-made weaponry and platforms, including “new T-72 tanks”. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
18 Dec 18. Here’s Why It Will Take Six More Years to Field the Army’s New Light Tank. Soldiers line up their Humvees before a vehicle gunnery exercise at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, on Nov. 16, 2015. U.S. Army modernization officials defended the rapid prototyping strategy for the service’s Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) system, even though infantry units won’t receive the new light tank until 2025.
The Army announced Monday that it awarded contracts to General Dynamics Land Systems Inc. and BAE Systems, worth up to $376m each, to produce prototypes of the MPF.
The two companies will each build 12 prototypes so the Army can begin testing them in early 2020. The goal is to down-select to a winner by fiscal 2022.
“We are excited about this opportunity,” Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, head of Program Executive Office Ground Combat Systems, told reporters at the Pentagon. “We have an aggressive schedule to take a look at these two companies as they build the prototypes.”
GDLS and BAE beat out SAIC and its partner, ST Engineering Land Systems Ltd., but Army officials would not comment on the reason the winners were chosen.
Service officials lauded the contract awards as a major step forward in streamlining Army acquisition and said they plan to use the rapid prototyping approach as a model for future programs.
But even if the Army in 2022 selects one of the companies to build production MPF systems, it likely will take another three years before the service will field the first of 504 of these lightweight tanks to infantry brigade combat teams.
Army officials said it would take longer to field the MPF if they hadn’t used what’s known as “Middle Tier Acquisition Rapid Prototyping (Section 804)” contracts, an acquisition tool designed to streamline testing and development of prototypes.
The process is quicker than other acquisition procedures in that the MPF program will not use time-consuming preliminary and critical design reviews to ensure that platforms meet requirements, Army officials explained.
“For a new system, [going through that process] could add as much as a year-and-a-half to two years onto the whole cycle,” said David Dopp, Mobile Protected Firepower program manager, adding that the Army is pleased it will take just 14 months for GDLS and BAE to produce the 12 prototypes each.
“Fourteen months is very challenging. I don’t think you can find another program that ever got prototypes in 14 months,” he said. “When you build these vehicles and you put them together, [sometimes] they don’t work, or if they do work, we take them out and test them, and there are things that happen, and we need that time to prove it out.”
Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team, said the Army will use the 14 months to get a headstart on figuring out how infantry units will utilize the MPF to destroy enemy bunkers and other hardened battlefield positions.
“Right now, we are doing experiments and tactical training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with vehicles that have a similar profile of the Mobile Protective Firepower to develop tactics, techniques and procedures for the light forces to work with mechanized vehicles in the close fight,” he said.
The MPF concept emerged several years ago when maneuver leaders started calling for a lightweight, armored platform for light infantry forces equipped with a cannon powerful enough to destroy hardened targets.
Since then, the MPF program has been placed into the Next Generation Combat Vehicle, or NGCV, portfolio, the second of the Army’s six modernization priorities that fall under the responsibility of the new Army Futures Command.
Coffman said he was pleased with the MPF’s progress, calling it the “first NGCV major decision that’s come out, as far as procurement actions.”
“If anything needs to be changed, we are not afraid to do it,” he said. “We want what is best for our soldiers as fast as we can get it. (Source: Military.com)
18 Dec 18. Weaponised Mission Master UGV takes shape. Rheinmetall Canada continues to expand the capabilities of its 8×8 Mission Master unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), which it has been developing using internal research and development funding since 2016.
Jane’s understands that the company plans to integrate a range of weapons systems to the UGV, with one example being a remote weapon station (RWS) fitted with two pods that each contain seven Thales TDA unguided 70 mm rockets.
Alternatively, the UGV could be fitted with the company’s own Fieldranger RWS armed with a stabilised 20 mm dual feed cannon. The weapon station could also be armed with other weapons, such as a 7.62 mm or 12.7 mm machine gun (MG), or with a 30 mm or 40 mm automatic grenade launcher (AGL).
Another possible weapons fit comprises a 40 mm AGL and a pod of two Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Spike anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) on the right side.
The Fieldranger RWS is fitted with a sensor package on the left side and features powered traverse through 360°, with weapon elevation from -20 to 60°.
Besides logistics support, other roles envisioned by Rheinmetall Canada include battlefield surveillance – with the UGV fitted with a range of sensors, including a day/night sensor package and laser rangefinder mounted on a telescopic mast – medical evacuation, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) detection, fire suppression, and communications relay.
When being used as a cargo carrier, the UGV has a maximum payload of about 600 kg, although this is reduced to 300 kg to maintain amphibious mobility.
The UGV is based on an electrically powered 8×8 platform that can attain a maximum speed of up to 30 km/h. Tracks could be fitted over its wheels to further lower the ground pressure for improved mobility over soft terrain. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
17 Dec 18. US Army Narrows Search For Light Tank to Two Companies. General Dynamics and BAE Systems will each build 12 prototypes of an up-to-40-ton armored vehicle. The U.S. Army will evaluate light tanks built by General Dynamics and BAE Systems as it moves ahead with plans to field some 500 of the armored vehicles. While the Army is not yet buying large quantities of these tanks, the Mobile Protected Firepower project is another sign of how the Pentagon preparing for wars against peer competitors — like Russia and China — after nearly two decades of counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Currently, the Mobile Protected Firepower capabilities do not exist in our light formations,” Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross Functional Team, said Monday shortly after the contract announcement. “The requirements associated with this will enable U.S. forces to disrupt, breach, and break through those security zones and defensive belts to allow our infantrymen and women to close with and destroy the enemy on the objective.”
The Army did not say just how heavy the vehicles would be. But one of the requirements is to fit two of them aboard a C-17 Globemaster III airlifter, which has a capacity of about 80 tons. By contrast, the C-17 can carry just one 73-ton Abrams M1A2, the latest version of the Army’s main battle tank. And while the M1A2 mounts a 120mm gun, the new tank’s cannon will fire a projectile between 105mm and 120mm in diameter, Coffman said.
General Dynamics and BAE received deals to each build 12 prototypes for the Army. The contracts could be worth up to $376m over the coming years, and the first prototypes from each company are expected to arrive 14 months from now, Army officials said. The Army is using special buying authorities, allowing the service to move quicker than a traditional acquisition program.
“The vehicles don’t exist, but the technologies, the pieces, the systems, the sub-systems, they do exist,” said David Dopp, the light-tank project manager. “It’s about integration.”
Soldiers will test the vehicles during the Army’s trials. The tanks will also be fired upon to determine how they stand up to enemy weapons.
The Army plans to choose a winner in fiscal 2022 and have battle-ready tanks by 2025. In all, the service is planning to buy 504 of these light-tanks. The Army is eying the tanks for battles in fortified cities and muddy terrain.
“There’s no precision munition to remove bunkers from the battlefield, to shoot into buildings in dense urban terrain to allow infantryman to close with the enemy,” Coffman said. “This is a huge need and it’s a huge advancement towards the way we want to fight our future wars.”
“It has to be able to move over the terrain that we would expect light infantrymen can manver alongside,” he said. “It doesn’t have to go over every terrain that a soldier goes after, but it has to have the mobility to keep up and lead our soldiers in some really bad places.”
Army officials would not say why they chose the General Dynamics and BAE bids over a light-tank pitched by SAIC and Singapore-based ST Engineering.
“We can’t talk about the different proposals that we got,” Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, program executive officer, Ground Combat Systems, said at Monday’s briefing.
A BAE statement said its tank “is the result of more than 30 years of research and development for an optimized, rapidly deployable, light-combat vehicle designed specifically to support light infantry.”
SAIC — which earlier this year lost a competition to BAE for new Marine Corps Amphibious Combat Vehicles — expressed disappointment that its proposal was not selected.
“We believe that our vehicle, developed with our teammates STEngineering, CMI Defence, and Plasan, is an innovative solution at best value to meet current and future requirements,” Lauren Presti, an SAIC spokeswoman, said in an email. “We are extremely proud of our MPF’s performance and look forward to continuing our support for Army readiness and modernization in other areas.” (Source: Defense One)
17 Dec 18. BAE Systems Awarded Development Contract for Mobile Protected Firepower. The U.S. Army has awarded BAE Systems a contract worth up to $376m for the Engineering, Manufacturing, and Development (EMD) phase of the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) program and rapid prototyping effort with low-rate initial production options. BAE Systems’ solution combines new technology with proven capability to provide the Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) with a highly agile, armor-protected platform that delivers overwhelming and precise firepower for use across the spectrum of terrains and operations.
“Our offering integrates innovative technology that reduces the burden on the crew into a compact design deployable in areas that are hard to reach,” said Deepak Bazaz, director of combat vehicles programs at BAE Systems. “We’re confident our design meets the requirements and the unique capabilities the IBCT needs.”
Under the contract, one of two awarded ahead of the Government’s down-select to a final contractor, BAE Systems will produce 12 prototype vehicles during the EMD phase.
The BAE Systems MPF is the result of more than 30 years of research and development for an optimized, rapidly deployable, light combat vehicle designed specifically to support light infantry. The vehicle leverages investments the Army made in the M8 Armored Gun System, including its low-profile design, and proven technologies like the M35 105mm cannon, and an auto-loading ammunition system that allows the gun to fire at a rate of 12 rounds per minute. The innovative roll-out powerpack design allows for easy access to the engine and transmission without the aid of heavy equipment.
It also integrates scalable armor and innovative survivability subsystems to protect the vehicle and crew from threats on the future battlefield. The vehicle employs situational awareness systems adding to the highest levels of survivability and crew protection. The compact design allows for multiple vehicle deployment on a C-17 and exceeds the Army’s transport requirement and it is sustainable within the IBCT.
Work on the EMD vehicles will take place at BAE Systems’ facilities in Aiken, South Carolina; San Jose, California; Sterling Heights, Michigan; and York, Pennsylvania. (Source: BUSINESS WIRE)
17 Dec 18. The Horiba MIRA tracked loader took part in the British Army’s AWE18 exercise on Salisbury Plain. The UGV provides safe combat engineering task support and allows hazardous tasks to be conducted remotely without operators being put in harm’s way. The vehicle has been developed by our team of software engineers and graduates and the trial is allowing us to refine our autonomous vehicle technologies across a variety of challenging terrains. It’s another example of how our engineering expertise is helping to make military operations safer. (Source: Linkedin)
17 Dec 18. Milrem Robotics UGVs successfully tested by British troops. Four Milrem Robotics’ and QinetiQ Titan unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) were put through three weeks of rigorous tests by British troops during the Army Warfighting Experiment 2018 (AWE18) – Autonomous Warrior (Land). With four vehicles, Milrem Robotics was the most represented UGV manufacturer in the exercise.
“The main goal of the experiment, which concluded last week, was to determine how new unmanned technologies can enhance soldier’s survivability and effectiveness on the modern battlefield,” explained (Cpt, ret) Juri Pajuste, Program Director at Milrem Robotics, who took part in the exercises.
The test was conducted in three phases: conduct combat operations without the benefit of new technologies; conduct combat operations using new technologies but without changing tactics; and lastly, conduct combat operations using new technologies and adapting tactics according to the capability that the new technology provides. The UGVs were used in a number of different roles with missions conducted in urban, open and forested terrain.
“The feedback from the users was very positive and they were surprised how agile and durable Milrem’s UGV is,” Pajuste added. Of the four Milrem Robotics developed UGVs, two were deployed by Milrem Robotics and two by QinetiQ. The Milrem fielded systems included one configured as a casualty evacuation and logistical support unit and a second unit equipped with a tethered multi-rotor drone pod provided by Threod Systems.
One of the four UGVs was TITAN Strike, a prototype system carrying a Kongsberg remote weapon station, fully controlled by a remote operator and using QinetiQ’s Pointer system as a means of integrating the capability with dismounted infantry. The second system, TITAN Sentry, also enabled with Pointer, featured a Hensoldt provided sensor suite including electro optical and thermal imaging cameras and a battlefield radar.
Keith Mallon, campaign manager at QinetiQ, said: “AWE 18 is the conclusion of months of hard work, maturing TITAN Sentry and TITAN Strike. We have enjoyed working closely with Milrem Robotics and are looking forward to future collaboration, working together with the world leading THeMIS platform.”
QinetiQ also utilized one of the 2 TITAN platforms in a logistics configuration as part of its work on the UK’s Autonomous Last Mile Resupply challenge, with demonstrations taking place alongside AWE18.
17 Dec 18. Police in Nordrhein-Westfalen take delivery of Rheinmetall Survivor R special operations vehicle. Rheinmetall has just handed over a heavily protected Survivor R special operations vehicle to the police in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen. Herbert Reul, minister of the interior of Nordrhein-Westfalen, symbolically presented the keys to the police SWAT unit in Essen. This versatile vehicle, ordered in spring 2018, is specially configured to meet the needs of tactical law enforcement in extreme situations. Three German states – Berlin, Saxony and Nordrhein-Westfalen – now equip their police special operators with the Survivor R.
Made by Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles, the Survivor R epitomizes Rheinmetall’s commitment to the twin modern imperatives of security and mobility. Developed in cooperation with Austrian special vehicle maker Achleitner, the Survivor R is superbly suited to police SWAT team-type operations. Vehicles of this kind are particularly important in high-risk situations when special operators need to be transported safely to the area of operations, or for evacuating persons from the danger zone.
The Survivor R is based on a high-performance 4×4 MAN truck chassis, outfitted with a steel armour passenger compartment. Capable of reaching a top speed of over 100 km/h, this high-mobility vehicle combines tried-and-tested automotive engineering from large-scale production runs with state-of-the-art force protection technology from Rheinmetall. Systematic use of civilian off-the-shelf and standard military components results in a sensibly priced vehicle, while simultaneously benefitting from Rheinmetall MAN’s global service and maintenance network. This makes the Survivor R a cost-efficient, easy-to-maintain vehicle with low lifecycle costs and high operational readiness.
17 Dec 18. 500th VT4 delivered to the Army. On Monday, December 17th, 2018, the 500th VT4 vehicle has been delivered to the Army. Thanks to this delivery, the delivery targets – 500 Standard 1 vehicles – are met for 2018. Designed for liaison and command, the VT4 is a light vehicle which is being delivered to the French Army since October 1st.
On October 11th, the 12e Régiment de Cuirassiers (12th Regiment of Cuirassiers) received the first two VT4 delivered to the Army, during a ceremony held at the Structure Intégrée du Maintien en Condition Opérationnelle des Matériels Terrestres (Integrated Structure for the Maintenance of Land Equipment).
The VT4 has received an excellent welcome from all the units in which it has been deployed. It has notably received praise for its comfort, security and modernity, which all preserve the soldier’s battle-readiness in operations.
The VT4 program was announced in December 2016 by the Minister of Defence during his visit at the Centre de Maintien en Condition Opérationnelle (ARQUUS’ Maintenance Center) in Fourchambault (Nièvre). It will cover a total of 3,700 vehicles produced in the ARQUUS plant in Saint Nazaire since December 2017.
The VT4 program aims at militarizing a 4×4 civilian base by adding several new references which focus on mobility, ergonomics, resistance and military equipment integration.
This concept combines the comfort and security of modern vehicles and the ruggedness of military vehicles. The VT4 vehicles will benefit from an innovative support, entirely integrated by ARQUUS since the beginning of the contract, with a commitment on vehicle availability. The maintenance center in Fourchambault is already in charge of the logistics support for VT4-equipped units.
The delivery of the Standard 2 version of the VT4 will start as early as the beginning of 2019. The order for the 2nd tier, which consists of 1,200 Standard 2 vehicles with 350 more references, was signed on September 7th by the DGA (French DNA).
This program was instrumental for ARQUUS’ plant in Saint-Nazaire, which now employs more than 200 people, and is still ramping up.
14 Dec 18. The THeMIS Unmanned Ground Vehicle developed by MILREM Robotics has been trialled on Salisbury Plain during AUTONOMOUS WARRIOR 2018, writes Bob Morrison. From MoD-supplied video footage published by both the Daily Mail and the BBC over the last week or so it has now become clear that the THeMIS (Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry System) UGV (Unmanned Ground Vehicle) developed by MILREM Robotics of Estonia was one of the major systems trialled on the UK AUTONOMOUS WARRIOR programme which has been running over the last four weeks on Salisbury Plain as centrepiece of Army Warfighting Experiment 2018. According to the Daily Mail, the remote-controlled mini-tank (their description) is being called TITAN STRIKE by the British Army, is being evaluated as a means of attacking enemies without putting soldiers at risk and has apparently been “firing a laser beam to simulate live rounds of ammunition”. It is said the UGV is controlled by a soldier using a tablet to plot locations on a map and can be driven remotely using a joystick.
Kuldar Vaarsi, CEO of MILREM Robotics has stated the company’s THeMIS tracked UGV “has proven itself to be an ideal platform for various weapon systems integration.” The UGV has already passed live fire tests with the FN Herstal deFNder Medium RWS, the ST Kinetics ADDER and the Aselsan SARP plus an anti-tank system with the MBDA IMPACT (Integrated MMP Precision Attack Combat Turret) system is also in development.
Basic dimensions of THeMIS, without weapon station, are just 2400x2150x1110mm and kerb weight is 1450kg with a 750kg payload capacity. Run time as a hybrid, with a diesel engine, is 8-10 hours and on battery power only is 30-90 minutes, dependent on payload and mission. Patrol speed is 20km/hr.
In the video clip below, which we shot in Estonia in June last year, THeMIS is fitted with the FN Herstal deFNder RWS (Remote Weapon Station) and it is engaging, with blank rounds, a simulated attacking helicopter approaching troops in static positions.
Footnote: In mid-November JOINT-FORCES.com was invited by MoD Whitehall to a media facility tomorrow (Monday 10th) for AUTONOMOUS WARRIOR on Salisbury Plain but on enquiring last Thursday at what time we should arrive we were informed that the facility was now “at capacity” so we could no longer be accommodated. Sorry guys, we would have loved to have provided wider coverage for both our readership and those manufacturers who have invested heavily in supporting the event, but if MoD is unwilling to cooperate our hands are tied. (Source: http://www.joint-forces.com)
14 Dec 18. Endeavor Robotics reveals Scorpion UGV details. Endeavor Robotics has unveiled the design of its Scorpion unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) that it is pushing for the US Army’s Common Robotic System-Individual (CRS-I) programme. The Scorpion is a clean-sheet design weighing less than 11 kg. Its light weight ensures that it is backpackable and carried by one individual. The ruggedised, tracked platform is highly mobile and can traverse rough terrain, climb stairs, as well as operate in wet or submerged environments. The UGV can be controlled via a universal controller that features uPoint and MOCU-4 software, enabling operators to view and control other UGVs and UAVs simultaneously. The display can also present multiple video streams, while pre-set functions allow the operator to rapidly position the vehicle.
“With Scorpion, we’ve incorporated a number of new design elements and technology that will directly benefit explosive ordnance disposal teams and the warfighter in general,” Endeavor CEO Sean Bielat told Jane’s .
“Many of the advancements are around manipulation and mobility,” he said, noting that the UGV is equipped with a patented flipper design that enables it to be self-righting.
“Scorpion includes more cameras than most other UGVs, located in areas that help operators better control the vehicle and manipulate objects, including an optional patented inline gripper camera that stays stationary while the gripper rotates,” he added.
The UGV incorporates a manipulator arm that can lift loads of up to 6.8 kg. The arm can extend out to a maximum reach of 61 cm and rotate 360°.
It is also equipped with seven high-definition day and night cameras for enhanced situational awareness, while its open-architecture design enables the vehicle to be configured quickly. It can be repaired on the field using 3D printed parts. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
13 Dec 18. Ashok Leyland and Elbit Systems sign agreement for military vehicles. Indian conglomerate Hinduja Group flagship Ashok Leyland and Israel’s Elbit Systems have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for high mobility vehicles (HMV). Under the agreement, the Indian company will supply HMVs to Elbit Systems, which will integrate the military vehicles with artillery guns and systems. This partnership aims to provide integrated systems for export across the globe and, according to Elbit Systems, will enhance Ashok Leyland’s defence business. Ashok Leyland is one of the Indian Army’s largest suppliers of wheeled military vehicles such as combat support HMVs, logistic and armoured vehicles.
Commenting on the collaboration, Ashok Leyland defence head Amandeep Singh said: “For over three decades, Ashok Leyland has been a vital part of our defence forces through our mobility solutions.
“Now, with this MOU, we will be able to compete on a global stage with global OEMs. Our strong focus on strategic global defence organisations to provide state of the art mobility technology is being recognised.
“With Elbit as our partners, we seek to leverage the capabilities of both organisations and provide world-class mobility solutions across the globe. With our expertise in design and logistics, this MOU marks yet another milestone for us and our country.”
Elbit Systems is engaged in the manufacture of a range of products across defence areas such as land systems, artillery systems and platforms, howitzers, mortars and ammunition.
Last week, the company was awarded a $112m contract to supply advanced airborne intelligence systems for an unspecified Asia-Pacific customer.
Elbit Systems has recently completed the acquisition of IMI Systems, which is a manufacturer of various precision munitions, combat mobility, survivability and protection systems and armour solutions among others. (Source: army-technology.com)
13 Dec 18. The ‘dirty’ secret behind autonomous machines. Fourteen years ago, the future of robotic warfare ground to a halt in the desert outside Barstow, California. During DARPA’s Grand Challenge, which sought to automate the task of driving long distances across rugged terrain, a converted Humvee ended its journey with a thud just 7.5 miles from the starting line, far shy of the lofty goal of Primm, Nevada, which remained 142 miles away. If there is a prologue to the modern world of ground-based autonomous vehicles, it is here in this simple failure in the desert.
However, 18 months of iteration later, multiple teams completed a 132-mile circuit, and then an urban challenge, and from there the work on self-navigating vehicles moved from an experimental frontier of military spending to a driving concern of tech industry. Today, tech giants such as Google and Apple have created (and in Google’s case, even spun off) self-driving car companies.
It’s a foundational story, but an incomplete one: driving through an empty desert without humans on board is the easy challenge. Making a machine that can do it under realistic conditions in war is hard, and it’s the kind of hard that must be settled first, before any theorizing about the future of war and visions of autonomous machines that actually perform the onerous work of fighting wars.
“The successes of machine learning of the decade, which has everybody’s so excited about the new wave of artificial intelligence, are based on availability of enormous good clean, nice data,” said Alexander Kott, chief scientist of the Army Research Laboratory.
“You have 1 million pictures of cats and you have 1 million pictures of dogs and then your deep learning algorithm can go and learn how to differentiate cats from dogs. That is not going to happen on the battlefield.”
A roadmap to success
One of Kott’s, and ARL’s, interests is in what he terms “mobile intelligent entities” moving across the battlefield. The term is platform agnostic — it can apply to quadcopters and tracked vehicles — and it can also work for more science-fictional legged and limbed machines that walk and crawl into place. To better understand this idea, think of how the machines operate: on their own, evaluating the environment around them and performing tasks in collaboration with humans, rather than being directly controlled by them.
“If you take a piece of terrain and you show it to an infantry company commander and say, ‘The guy is on that hilltop over there, you must maneuver in order to take that away,’ there are only so many ways that you can maneuver on the terrain,” said Tony Cerri, who this year retired from working on simulations and data for the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.
“A tactical genius was probably going to see something that others won’t. However, it’s gonna take them a minute or so, whereas a machine could figure it out in milliseconds.”
The first generation of mobile intelligent entities will broadly fall into two categories: those that perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, and those that execute resupply. These are essential tasks, but a step removed from the automated fights of droid armies that usually comes to mind when people picture battlefield robotics. This is partly because it’s easier to learn to walk and crawl than it is to learn to fight. But it’s also because learning to walk and crawl are, themselves, truly difficult tasks, and ones worth mastering autonomously in their own right.
“As long as you are flying, you are dealing with a medium in which in which mobility is relatively easy,” Kott said.
“It is much harder when we talk about ground crawlers, especially in extremely broken terrain such as urban terrain. That remains wide open research area. This is not necessarily in near-term. This is not a space for near-term successes.”
Long past are the days where designing for maneuver means principally designing for formations in open swathes of desert or the wide passes between hills in European plains. The army of the future, like the army of the present, will fight in cities, and they will want machines that can operate in all the three dimensionalities of that space without needing step-by-step human supervision.
“In some ways teleoperation is also a research problem. We know how to teleoperate vehicles in a fairly benign environment and even that is very labor consuming,” Kott said.
“If you go into more complicated environments, for example, tunnels and holes in the urban rubble, teleoperation becomes exceedingly difficult. The amount of information that the soldier who operates that vehicle needs to actually do teleoperation at any reasonable speed is huge.”
Far from the ease of massive, clean, online datasets, or even the relatively clean data of cars collecting information on city streets, the Army will have to collect data it needs to teach robots to maneuver each of these obstacles: tunnels, manholes, urban rubble, hills and forests, craters and anything else someone might reasonably expect on a battlefield.
“The problem of retraining and relearning changing environments continues to be a very difficult problem which doesn’t really have a particularly good solution. So, in fact, no reliable solutions,” Kott said.
“A good deal of it remains a matter of research on how to build machine intelligence for this kind of environment. I will say it is unreasonable to say that we have answers to these questions.”
Autonomy here is best thought of as meeting two distinct goals: saving the labor of a human doing the task either while physically present or remotely, and enabling vehicles to work in denied or difficult environments with low bandwidth. Sending the data back that is needed for a human to pilot, say, a remote-control ground vehicle is tricky in permissive environments, virtually impossible in dense cities and especially unlikely if the robot is operating underground. Collecting useful information for a remote operator means adding more sensors than the vehicle needs, which again increases the needed bandwidth and makes communication difficult.
If, instead, the robots can operate largely on their own — whether it is a quadcopter autonomously flying around a city block or a futuristic crawling machine maneuvering through sewers in order to deliver supplies to troops pinned down in a difficult-to-reach place — then the machines will need to do far less to keep humans informed. Maybe it’s a low-bandwidth broadcast of a GPS location, or maybe just a one-sentence generated update relayed to a tablet indicating progress. Developing to both the limits and strengths of autonomous machines means devising new ways for the humans to collaborate with the robots working alongside them. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
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.