30 Oct 20. How the Army plans to revolutionize tanks with artificial intelligence. Even as the U.S. Army attempts to integrate cutting edge technologies into its operations, many of its platforms remain fundamentally in the 20th century.
Take tanks, for example.
The way tank crews operate their machine has gone essentially unchanged over the last 40 years. At a time when the military is enamored with robotics, artificial intelligence and next generation networks, operating a tank relies entirely on manual inputs from highly trained operators.
“Currently, tank crews use a very manual process to detect, identify and engage targets,” explained Abrams Master Gunner Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Harris. “Tank commanders and gunners are manually slewing, trying to detect targets using their sensors. Once they come across a target they have to manually select the ammunition that they’re going to use to service that target, lase the target to get an accurate range to it, and a few other factors.”
The process has to be repeated for each target.
“That can take time,” he added. “Everything is done manually still.”
On the 21st century battlefield, it’s an anachronism.
“Army senior leaders recognize that the way the crews in the tank operate is largely analogous to how these things were done 30, 45 years ago,” said Richard Nabors, acting principal deputy for systems and modeling at the DEVCOM C5ISR Center.
“These senior leaders, many of them with extensive technical expertise, recognized that there were opportunities to improve the way that these crews operate,” he added. “So they challenged the Combat Capabilities Development Command, the Armaments Center and the C5ISR Center to look at the problem.”
On Oct. 28, the Army invited reporters to Aberdeen Proving Ground to see their solution: the Advanced Targeting and Lethality Aided System, or ATLAS.
ATLAS uses advanced sensors, machine learning algorithms and a new touchscreen display to automate the process of finding and firing targets, allowing crews to respond to threats faster than ever before.
“The assistance that we’re providing to the soldiers will speed up those engagement times [and] allow them to execute multiple targets in the same time that they currently take to execute a single target,” said Dawne Deaver, C5ISR project lead for ATLAS.
At first glance, the ATLAS prototype the Army had set up looked like something out of a Star Wars film, albeit with treads and not easily harpooned legs. The system was installed on a mishmash of systems — a sleek black General Dynamics Griffin I chassis with the Army’s Advance Lethality and Accuracy System for Medium Calibur (ALAS-MC) auto-loading 50mm turret stacked on top.
And mounted on top of the turret was a small round Aided Target Recognition (AiTR) sensor — a mid-wave infrared imaging sensor to be more exact. Constantly rotating to scan the battlefield, the sensor almost had a life of its own, not unlike an R2 unit on the back of an X-Wing.
Trailing behind the tank and connected via a series of long black cables was a black M113. For this demonstration, the crew station was located inside the M113, not the tank itself. Cavernous compared to the inside of an Abrams tank, the M113 had three short seats lined up. At the forward-most seat was a touchscreen display and a video game-like controller for operating the tank, while further back computer monitors displayed ATLAS’ internal processes.
Of course, ATLAS isn’t the tank itself, or even the M113 connected to it. The chassis served as a surrogate for either a future tank, fighting vehicle or even a retrofit of current vehicles, while the turret was an available program being developed by the Armaments Center. The M113 is not really meant to be involved at all, but the Army decided to remotely locate the crew station inside of it for safety concerns during a live fire demonstration expected to take place in the coming weeks. ATLAS, Army officials reminded observers again and again, is agnostic to the chassis or turret it’s installed on.
So if ATLAS isn’t the tank, what is it?
Roughly speaking, ATLAS is the mounted sensor collecting data, the machine learning algorithm processing that data, and the display/controller that the crew uses to operate the tank.
Here’s how it works:
ATLAS starts with the optical sensor mounted on top of the tank. Once activated, the sensor continuously scans the battlefield, feeding that data into a machine learning algorithm that automatically detects threats.
Images of those threats are then sent to a new touchscreen display, the graphical user interface for the tank’s intelligent fire control system. The images are lined up vertically on the left side of the screen, with the main part of the display showing what the gun is currently aimed at. Around the edges are a number of different controls for selecting ammunition, fire type, camera settings and more.
By simply touching one of the targets on the left with your finger, the tank automatically swivels its gun, training its sights on the dead center of the selected object. As it does that, the fire control system automatically recommends the appropriate ammo and setting — such as burst or single shot — to respond with, though the user can adjust these as needed.
So with the target in its sights, weapon selected, the operator has a choice: Approve the AI’s recommendations and pull the trigger, adjust the settings before responding, or disengage. The entire process from target detection to the pull of the trigger can take just seconds. Once the target is destroyed, the operator can simply touch the screen to select the next target picked up by ATLAS.
In automating what are now manual tasks, the aim of ATLAS is to reduce end-to-end engagement times. Army officials declined to characterize how much faster ATLAS is than a traditional tank crew. However, a demo video shown at Aberdeen Proving Ground claimed ATLAS allows “the operator to engage three targets in the time it now takes to just engage one.”
ATLAS is essentially a marriage between technologies developed by the Army’s C5ISR Center and the Armaments Center.
“We are integrating, experimenting and prototyping with technology from C5ISR center — things like advanced EO/IR targeting sensors, aided target algorithms — we’re taking those technology products and integrating them with intelligent fire control systems from the Armaments Center to explore efficiencies between those technologies that can basically buy back time for tank crews,” explained Ground Combat Systems Division Deputy Director Jami Davis.
Starting in August, the Army began bringing in small groups of tank operators to test out the new system, mostly using a new virtual reality setup that replicates the ATLAS display and controller. By gathering soldier feedback early, the Army hopes that they can improve the system quickly and make it ready for fielding that much faster. Already, the Army has brought in 40 soldiers. More soldier touchpoints and a live fire demonstration are anticipated to help the Army mature its product.
In some ways, ATLAS replicates the AI-capabilities demonstrated at Project Convergence in miniature. Project Convergence is the Army’s new campaign of learning, designed to integrate new sensor, AI and network capabilities to transform the battlefield. In September, the Army hauled many of its most advanced cutting edge technologies to the desert at Yuma Proving Ground, then tried to connect them in new ways. In short, at Project Convergence the Army tried to create an environment where it could connect any sensor to the best shooter.
The Army demonstrated two types of AI at Project Convergence. First were the automatic target recognition AIs. These machine learning algorithms processed the massive amount of data picked up by the Army’s sensors to detect and identify threats on the battlefield, producing targeting data for weapon systems to utilize.
The second type of AI was used for fire control, and is represented by FIRES Synchronization to Optimize Responses in Multi-Domain Operations, or FIRESTORM. Taking in the targeting data from the other AI systems, FIRESTORM automatically looks at the weapons at the Army’s disposal and recommends the best one to respond to any given threat.
While ATLAS does not yet have the networking components that tied Project Convergence together across domains, it essentially performs those two tasks: It’s AI automatically detects threats and recommends the best response to the human operators. Although the full ATLAS system wasn’t hauled out to Project Convergence this year, the Army was able to bring out the virtual prototyping setup to Yuma Proving Ground, and there is hope that ATLAS itself could be involved next year.
To be clear: ATLAS is not meant to replace tank crews. It’s meant to make their jobs easier, and in the process, much faster. Even if ATLAS is widely adopted, crews will still need to be trained for manual operations in case the system breaks down. And they’ll still need to rely on their training to verify the algorithm’s recommendations.
“We can assist the soldier and reduce the number of manual tasks that they have to do while still retaining the soldiers’ ability to always override the system, to always make the final decision of whether or not the target is a threat, whether or not the firing solution is correct, and that they can make that decision to pull the trigger and engage targets,” explained Deaver. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
30 Oct 20. SVI enhances MAX 3 armoured vehicle. SVI Engineering has improved its MAX 3 low cost armoured personnel carrier with a slew of upgrades. The response has been so positive that the original prototype was sold even before series production had started.
The MAX 3 is designed to be extremely cost effective (costing less than a high-end SUV, with prices starting from R1.5 million) as it is based on the popular Toyota Land Cruiser 79 platform, making spares and maintenance simple, especially for the African market – spares can be obtained at any Toyota dealer. Engine options include a V6 petrol, inline six diesel and V8 turbodiesel, giving a top speed of 140 km/h with the V8 diesel.
In addition to upgraded brakes and suspension to improve go-anywhere ability and ride comfort, the vehicle is modified with an armoured cab with B6 ballistic level standard protection (against 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm assault rifles), but this can be upgraded to B7 and blast protection. The design is also resistant to riot-type attacks, as it has been designed for military and non-military roles, including armoured personnel carrier, ambulance, command and control, crowd control, special forces and police. The vehicle is available in single cab, double cab and as an armoured personnel carrier with an enclosed rear loadbed. It can be either left or right hand drive.
As the MAX 3 is based on the commercial Land Cruiser platform, no special license is need to operate it, making it suitable for non-military tasks such as mining security, riot control, civil security, anti-poaching and convoy protection (valuables in transit).
The original MAX 3 was launched at the September 2018 edition of the Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition, at which time it already had a launch customer. SVI subsequently revamped the design, and the new MAX 3 evolution features improved ergonomics, added interior space and bolder styling.
The armoured steel shell is designed and manufactured in-house by SVI, employing the lasted CAD software and manufacturing techniques. The conversion process entails removing the soft-skin body of the Toyota Land Cruiser 79 and replacing it with a new all steel body manufactured from armour plate. The armoured construction of the vehicle provides a minimum protection of EN1063 BR6 with additional protection against anti-personnel mines.
The MAX 3 can be fitted with a range of additional equipment, including the Thales Scorpion 60/81 mm automated mortar, 12.7 mm pintle mount or 12.7 mm Rogue Lite remotely operated weapon station. One customer has already ordered the Scorpion system for its vehicles. Other options are fire extinguishing systems, long range acoustic devices (such as the Genasys LRAD 450XL) for crowd control, and less lethal solutions.
The MAX 3 weights 3.8 tons with weapons systems – the vehicle is lighter than most armoured vehicles for high mobility and low cost.
SVI also offers a range of systems and solutions for its various vehicles, including ambulance, jammer, communications, protection and smoke launcher systems. It also offers site surveillance systems such as the Pathfinder seismic/acoustic sensor and a thermal radar for surveillance – this has proven popular with mining companies. The thermal radar comprises an infrared camera that turns for 360 degree coverage and if movement is detected, it homes in on that.
SVI says modular design of the MAX 3 allows short delivery times of three months for batches of up to 20 units. Although the enhanced MAX 3 was only recently completed, production is currently underway at SVI’s Pretoria East facility on another three MAX 3s, with two going to a mining company.
SVI sees a 50:50 civilian:military market share for the MAX 3 but for the purely military market it also offers the larger and heavier MAX 9 armoured personnel carrier. This can also carry weapons such as the Rogue LITE turret. (Source: Google/https://www.defenceweb.co.za/)
28 Oct 20. Obsolescence issues could increase cost of Leclerc XL upgrade. The cost of the Leclerc XL main battle tank upgrade programme could increase significantly due to years of unaddressed obsolescence issues, according to a 21 October report by the French National Assembly’s Defence and Armed Forces Committee.
Currently, the cost of the programme has been budgeted at EUR350m (nearly USD298m) for 122 upgraded tanks to be delivered to the French Army by 2025 and a total of 200 by 2030. During a 15 October hearing by the committee with Joël Barre, chief executive of the Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA), the French procurement agency, National Assembly member Jean-Charles Larsonneur noted obsolescence issues with the Leclerc’s Hyperbar turbocharging system and commander’s sight. Production of the Leclerc’s Hyperbar turbocharging system ceased in 2014 after Nexter failed to obtain EUR4 million in funding from the ministry of defence to keep the production line going. According to the Defence and Armed Forces Committee report, system obsolescence on the Leclerc would take an average of 36 months to be remedied, meaning that issues with sourcing spares for obsolescent subsystems for the tank could affect the availability of the XL upgraded models down the years. (Source: Jane’s)
29 Oct 20. As one of seven European users of the CV90, the Royal Netherlands Army operates 144 CV90s. Being a part of the CV90 family means that the user is working closely and continuously with BAE Systems to improve the vehicle’s current capabilities and looking at investments that will ensure the Dutch Army’s CV90s stay relevant for future challenges.
As part of a more than 500m EUR upgrade program, the most recent step forward is the implementation of a rubber track system on the DutchCV9035 Infantry Fighting Vehicle. What may seem like a small change from steel tracks to rubber has an enormous benefit – the change will improve crew endurance and running costs and significantly reduce weight, which in turn allows for better performance.
Altogether, the change to rubber tracks increases the potential for further upgrades.
The new contract, signed earlier this month, includes development, testing and verification, as well as the delivery of implementation kits for training alongside the Dutch customer – this will secure Dutch defense security of supply for many years to come.
Staying on track
The modification of the CV9035NL vehicles from steel tracks to a rubber track system has many benefits, including cutting the noise level inside the vehicle by a massive 10 dB and vibration levels by 65 percent.
“The reduced vibration levels will increase the life expectancy of electronics, optronics, and ammunition, which will significantly reduce vehicle running costs,” explains Dan Lindell, Director Combat Vehicles at BAE Systems Hägglunds. “What’s more, with the reduction of close to 1 tonne in vehicle weight as a result of the change to a rubber track system, there will be increased potential for continuous growth.”
There are significant benefits for the Dutch CV90 crew too. The change to a rubber track system will help to reduce crew fatigue thanks to reduced noise levels inside the vehicle. The adjustment also improves the CV90’s stealth on the battlefield and increases its mobility in the most challenging conditions.
29 Oct 20. U.S. Army’s Mobile Protected Firepower Program Features Allison Transmissions. Allison’s 3040 MX cross-drive transmission chosen by both manufacturers competing for the Army’s new Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle.
Allison Transmission, the largest global manufacturer of medium- and heavy-duty fully automatic transmissions for commercial and military vehicles, is an active participant in the U.S. Army’s combat vehicle modernisation plan, including the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) program. The two vehicle manufacturers selected to compete for the MPF contract have selected Allison’s 3040 MX cross-drive transmission for their vehicles. The Army intends to procure more than 500 MPF vehicles over the next 10 years.
The MPF is a new armoured light tank designed to increase the combat power of the Army’s light brigades. Unlike the Army’s armoured brigades, the service’s infantry brigades lack the ability to defeat enemy tracked combat vehicles, fortified bunkers and other armour threats. MPF provides these light brigades with the mobility and firepower capability needed to defeat current and future threats. The MPF program is one of the Army’s highest priority signature modernisation initiatives.
The Army is poised to begin evaluating MPF prototypes from each competitor this winter and will make a final selection of one vehicle manufacturer to produce MPF in the summer of 2022. Both MPF candidates rely on Allison’s proven 3040 MX cross-drive transmission, designed for medium-tracked combat vehicles, and provide power, steering and braking of the MPF vehicle. The 3040 MX is an updated variant of Allison’s X300 transmission that has powered combat vehicles worldwide for decades.
“We appreciate the opportunity to provide the propulsion systems for the critically important MPF program for the United States Army,” said Dana Pittard, Vice President for Defense Programs at Allison Transmission. “As we continue to support the military’s critical missions through our world-class fully automatic transmissions, Allison is also collaborating with international customers in the Middle East, Asia and Europe to meet their transmission requirements for medium weight armoured vehicles.”
Allison works with OEMs around the world to design, develop, manufacture and support transmissions that deliver in the toughest conditions. For fleets that are developing new wheeled or tracked vehicles, Allison can tailor a transmission specifically for that application. Allison engineers and manufactures reliable and fully customisable propulsion solutions, so customers experience reduced downtime and increased ability to accomplish critical objectives.
The 3040 MX is an updated variant of Allison’s X300 transmission that has powered combat vehicles worldwide for decades. Image can be downloaded here.
About Allison Transmission
Allison Transmission (NYSE: ALSN) is the world’s largest manufacturer of fully automatic transmissions for medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles and medium- and heavy-tactical U.S. defense vehicles, as well as a supplier of commercial vehicle propulsion solutions, including electric hybrid and fully electric propulsion systems. Allison products are used in a wide variety of applications, including on-highway trucks (distribution, refuse, construction, fire and emergency), buses (school, transit and coach), motorhomes, off-highway vehicles and equipment (energy, mining and construction applications) and defense vehicles (wheeled and tracked). Founded in 1915, the company is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. With a market presence in more than 80 countries, Allison has regional headquarters in the Netherlands, China and Brazil with manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Hungary and India. Allison also has approximately 1,500 independent distributor and dealer locations worldwide. For more information, visit allisontransmission.com.
23 Oct 20. US AFCEC starts delivery of MTRS II robots to EOD units. The US Air Force (USAF) Civil Engineer Center’s (AFCEC) Readiness Directorate has started delivery of new robots to explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) units.
The US Air Force (USAF) Civil Engineer Center’s (AFCEC) Readiness Directorate has started delivery of new robots to explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) units.
Known as the Man Transportable Robot System Increment II (MTRS II), the medium-sized remotely operated robots are designed to offer enhanced protection capability for forces operating in harmful environments.
Using the robot, EOD units can operate from a safe distance when detecting and disposing of unexploded explosive ordnance.
The USAF’s 325th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD flight at Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB) was the first unit to receive the first four units of the robotic system.
In addition, the 823rd Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, Detachment 1 took delivery of three units.
AFCEC EOD equipment programme manager master sergeant Justin Frewin stated that the US AFCEC plans to deliver 333 high-tech robots to every EOD flight across the USAF over the coming 16 to 18 months.
Around three to five robots will be delivered to all active-duty, guard and reserve flight.
The MTRS II will replace the old Air Force Medium-Sized Robot (AFMSR).
Frewin said: “Much like iPhones and laptops, this technology moves at such a rapid speed; the difference in capabilities between the MTRS II and the AFMSR are significant.
“The MTRS II controller is comparable to an Xbox or PlayStation-style controller, something the younger generation can pick up and immediately use with ease.”
The need to replace the outdated AFMSR technology increased after Hurricane Michael damaged all robots at Tyndall AFB in 2018.
Commenting on the adaptability and flexibility of the new system, 325th CES Senior Airman Kaelob King said: “Being able to update or rewrite the software means the Air Force can easily expand our capabilities down the road by adding tools, sensors and other attachments, whereas the old model required hardware updates.
“In our field, having a flexible, autonomous robot is a really good thing.”
In June, AFCEC Readiness Lab identified ways to continue the use of expired M295 decontamination kits used in chemical defence ensembles. (Source: army-technology.com)
26 Oct 20. tpgroup Artificial Intelligence (AI) System Contract in the United States. tpgroup, the provider of mission-critical solutions for a more secure world, has announced that it has signed a contract with Mountain Horse Solutions, a U.S Defence and Equipment Supplier, to develop an autonomous navigation platform for land-based vehicles for the United States Department of Defense.
The contract starts immediately for a period of nine months. The tpgroup Digital Solutions team, based in Hampshire UK, will work in partnership with Mountain Horse to develop and demonstrate a system for a convoy of autonomous vehicles using the autonomous navigation element of tpgroup’s existing suite of AI, machine learning and decision support software tools.
Following the successful demonstration of the concept, there is the potential to move to a production model that could go into live operation by the end of 2021.
Following the successful demonstration of the concept
Said Phil Cartmell, tpgroup’s Chief Executive Officer: “We are very excited to begin work on another application of our AI tools – this time for land vehicles.
“It is the first commercial business for these systems in the United States and we look forward to working with Mountain Horse Solutions to build upon this contract and generate further business in this key market.”
About the tpgroup autonomous solutions capability
tpgroup recognises the increasing importance of autonomy particularly for organisations operating in the most challenging environments – across land, airborne, space and sub-surface applications .
We have developed cutting edge patent pending software that produces dynamic risk aware optimised path planning for autonomous platforms – inspired by the academic technique of ant colony optimisation.
This innovative software generates optimal routes against multiple dynamic user defined constraints of specific vehicle characteristics, performance, fuel efficiency, time and cost.
It factors in the ever changing environmental elements, from forecasts or detected by on-board instruments, combined with input from mapping – to avoid any moving or stationary, mapped or unmapped obstacles.
This holistic planning approach also facilitates the simultaneous planning of multiple robots – de-conflicting and optimising their paths as a team. This enables collaborative exploration of the environment, for example in a disaster response mission or other hazardous situations such as offshore wind farms, oil rigs or a nuclear setting.
Please click here for more information on our autonomous navigation systems software and other digital solutions; https://www.tpgroupglobal.com/what-we-do/digital-solutions/north-star
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