Aerial technologies such as precision air drop and autonomous aerial vehicles could be used that would reduce the number of personnel in hazardous situations or avoid those situations entirely. Autonomy could be particularly useful in moving supplies the last tactical mile.
Use of autonomous ground vehicles could save weight and, therefore, fuel. However, so long as the vehicles are to be optionally crewed, all the components necessitated by the presence of troops will still have to be carried on board. Also, questions such as whether autonomous convoys would make softer targets, easier to destroy or seize, will have to be addressed.
Recognising the potential inherent in autonomous vehicle technology, several R&D projects have been undertaken in an effort to understand the capabilities and limitations of autonomous vehicles to determine if convoys could be implemented using leader-follower technology. This technology relies on a trailing vehicle focusing on the vehicle immediately in front of it and following that vehicle in close proximity.
Services are investigating how to implement autonomous technologies in an existing vehicle fleet by retrofitting the technology into existing vehicles to allow truck convoys in a military setting. The effort is focused on three different kits, which could be procured from multiple sources and interface with one another through standard interfaces: sensors for autonomy; components to interface with the steering, braking, acceleration, and shifting controls; and a mission-specific platform that can be optionally installed on a vehicle.
Several demonstrations of the system has shown that the concept is achievable and the technology approach is viable. However, there are several challenges. These include high cost because items such as drive-by-wire capability and high-resolution sensors are not yet produced in sufficient quantity to have reached affordable price points.
Another challenge is the use of active sensors e.g., light detection and ranging in theater, because they announce their location to all onlookers. Passive sensor technology exists to address this issue, but it is not as robust as active sensors across all lighting and weather conditions.
The autonomous vehicle system can drive autonomously on previously driven routes utilising a high-precision digital map. The requirements for a map and the predriving of the route before the system can drive it autonomously limit the applicability of this approach to military applications.
Self navigation vehicle has a number of onboard sensors that allow it to sense its surroundings and compare the results to a preinstalled three dimensional map to identify its location as well as potential conflicts.
Autonomous vehicle technologies offer a significant opportunity to automate military operations in order to improve logistics operations. They are ready to deploy in constrained settings with limited obstacles and established routes. They are not yet ready to deploy in operational settings with rough terrain or unpredictable routes.
Convoys use leader-follower technology, with following vehicles focused on a fiducial on the vehicle in front of them and maintaining pace with that vehicle. They are not concerned with traffic events to their sides or behind them because they are deploying in constrained environments and are not expected to interact with large numbers of manned vehicles with a number of different operational goals.
Autonomous vehicle technology is probably to be ready to deploy in constrained, predictable operational environments, mostly where there are roads and established routes to be followed and where a number of technology efforts have met with success. However, developing a system that can address all possible conditions is still in early stages.
When it comes to deploying autonomous vehicle technologies in a full range of military settings e.g., rough terrain or unpredictable routes there are technical challenges to overcome. Autonomous vehicles must be capable of operating in an environment where Global Positioning System systems have been degraded or blocked entirely. This means these vehicles need to have good systems capable of determining their location integrated into the vehicle platforms.
A vital component for any autonomous vehicle is the drive-by-wire system that provides the machine with the ability to control the steering, braking, acceleration, and gear shifting. Existing military vehicles would need an expensive retrofit to automate their functions. The use of active sensors e.g., light detection and ranging must be addressed as these sensors would probably not be acceptable for many in-theater operations.
Convoy operations are highly repetitious tasks that could utilise existing autonomous vehicle technology to reduce manpower requirements and reduce risk to the vehicle operators. Services must implement secure leader-follower vehicle technology which does not require 360-degree awareness and can be done with low-cost sensors using Autonomous Mobility System technology.
Recent efforts by the services have explored the use of autonomous vehicle technologies to provide logistical support to the last tactical mile, as well as to explore ways to lighten the load of the warfighter by providing autonomous load-bearing capabilities.
Dismounted Soldier Autonomy Tools program developed technologies to assist with efforts to lighten the load that must be carried by soldiers and to provide off-road mission support. To assist with delivery and support along the last tactical mile R&D teams are working on the squad mission support system , an unmanned vehicle based on a turbodiesel-powered, high-mobility, six-wheel, all-terrain vehicle capable of carrying big payloads.
The squad mission concept is to carry enough of a load to support a squad, conduct autonomous movement over rough terrain, and provide amphibious capability for crossing rivers and marshes in order to improve combat readiness while assuring resupply channels and the ability to evacuate casualties.
The programs have resulted in platforms that have been tested with the warfighters. The initial results suggest that they provide an attractive option for additional R&D investment. Some of these efforts could include the development of more cost-effective sensors, more cost-effective drive-by-wire components, and simulations investigating how to more efficiently integrate autonomous vehicle technology into the warfighters’ activities.
Aerial autonomy is another area of automation that needs to be considered. Many of the limitations of ground-based logistics support, such as the complexities of terrain and the need to predrive routes, are removed simply by using an aerial vehicle.
Many of the A2/AD risks faced by ground vehicles can also be avoided or partially mitigated, although new risks open up for air vehicles. Operational costs and limited payloads may limit broad applicability of aerial autonomy technology, but for logistics operations in highly complex terrains, the technology is worth investigating.
In the last several years, work has been undertaken to use unmanned air systems to support logistics operations. Demonstration of a prototype hybrid ground-air vehicle that could provide flexible and terrain-independent support for logistics, personnel transport, and tactical support for ground units is promising.
The initial motivation for the programme was to develop a system that could master transiting complex terrains and countering improvised explosive devices that affected traditional ground-based transportation.
Vertical takeoff and landing delivery systems will be unmanned and is expected to support multiple payload configurations from a common airframe. An example of a potential aerial logistics support tool is the K-MAX helicopter, which is capable of both remote-controlled and unmanned operations..
Precision air drop, a technique that involves air-dropped cargo guiding itself to a landing zone, has been used operationally. It is distinguished from conventional air drop in that the latter drops entirely unguided packages. Precision air drop offloads sustainment and reduces the number of vehicles that have to be used to deliver supplies to deployed forces. The reduction in the number of vehicles used reduces both the fuel and maintenance demands associated with operating those vehicles and thus can have a positive logistics impact.
Autonomous systems eliminate some reliance on ground resupply, removing trucks and personnel from convoy duty and thereby mitigating challenges such as improvised explosive devices. In addition to the logistics benefits, this capability allows resupply to more easily keep pace with expeditionary forces on the move.
There is a desire to increase precision in the future. A promising future is in store for tactical aerial delivery for squads or small units on the move, simplifying logistics in the last tactical mile and reduce the burden on soldiers. It is envisioned that a squad or small unit might be able to secure drop on-demand.
Precision air drop of sustainment materiel will significantly reduce the demand for ground-based resupply of forward areas, taking trucks off the road and reduce personnel risk. A helicopter-based Joint precision air drop system capability is being developed that could both reduce dependence on other service assets and expand the number of assets that can be used in a sustainment role, adding flexibility to the sustainment mission.
Pentagon is planning the use of robots to carry out the dangerous, and often tedious, elements of combat. Services are testing new ways of pairing troops with air and ground robots at the squad level with its sights focused on enhancing how the squad works on the battlefield with robots, and advanced targeting and sensing gear.
Squads are using air and ground vehicles to detect physical and electromagnetic threats, are able to demonstrate the ability to communicate and collaborate, even while operating on the edge of connectivity.’”
One program will give aviators a robot co-pilot with autonomous capability lo take the load off pilots so human pilots they can focus on mission tasks other than flying.
There is an ongoing effort to develop new technologies that would “extend squad awareness and engagement capabilities that can be extended without imposing physical and behavioural burdens.
Efforts aim to speed the development of new, lightweight, integrated systems that provide infantry squads awareness, adaptability and flexibility in complex environments like to enable dismounted troops to more intuitively understand and control their complex mission environments.
Those efforts fit within wider work being done by the Close Combat Lethality Task Force, a group set up to enhance close combat capabilities for infantry, special operations, scouts and some engineers. Squad Sensing detects potential threats at a squad-relevant operational pace. Capabilities of interest include multi-source data fusion and autonomous threat detection.
Squad Autonomy Increases squad members’ real-time knowledge of their own and team locations in GPS-denied environments using embedded unmanned air and ground systems. Capabilities of interest include robust collaboration between humans and unmanned systems.
“Each run, they learned a bit more on the systems and how they could support the operation,” “By the end, they were using the unmanned ground and aerial systems to maximise the squad’s combat power and allow a squad to complete a mission that normally would take a platoon to execute.”
Troops have been equipped with a variety of robotic and autonomous systems with the aim of improving areas such as combat mass, soldier lethality and overall information gathering. In one scenario, soldiers used robotic engineering vehicles to clear an obstacle, while a small quadcopter flew overhead to provide infrared imagery before armored infantry rolled in to take an enemy position.
Robotic systems with varying levels of autonomy were a key part of the exercise, ranging from radar-equipped drones for detecting buried IEDs, to small two-wheeled robots that are thrown into buildings to search for enemy fighters.
A related challenge continues to be lack of experience using unmanned and autonomous systems, with commanders using exercises to better understand capability enhancements as well as the inevitable shortfalls.
“This is a real opportunity to bring stuff into the field to see if military users will use it the way industry thinks they will use it. “There’s no one single piece of kit that will solve all our problems, it’s a combination of something in the air such as a surveillance asset, something on the ground, perhaps with a weapon on it or just doing logistics, but then it all links through an information system where you can pass that data and make better decisions to generate tempo.”
One issue is an increasingly crowded radio frequency spectrum, especially as several unmanned systems compete for space to beam back high-resolution data from onboard sensors. “The problem is when they start cutting each other out, we are dealing with physics here, if we want to have great high definition video passing across the battlefield we need to trade somewhere else.”
Not only will there be a need to ensure that the control systems do not interfere with each other, but also that leaders “will have to be convinced that new systems are not simply too vulnerable to jamming and other disruptive techniques by an adversary.”
A promising development from trials is the ability to optionally man a standard vehicle using kits that can be fitted within a few hours including a remote-controlled infantry fighting vehicle and a lightweight tactical vehicle.
Troops in the exercise used the vehicles in unintended ways, utilising surveillance tool on onboard camera. Squads also used vehicles to help in entering buildings and to carry supplies or troops.
“What we have found is that when troops are using these vehicles they just want to jump on the vehicle because it goes faster than they can, and you can move groups very quickly on them. For safety reasons the soldiers were not allowed to hop on board during the exercise. “Optionally manned is good, but we don’t know if it needs to be optionally manned with a steering wheel and a seat.
Legged robots could serve many shipboard or on-base functions, including fire suppression, if properly equipped. To be useful , legged robots must navigate the world much as humans do like a test for what could be the future of maintenance work.
Bouncing sets of limbs that results in an unsettling gait. Special actuators and gait-balancing software enable the whole production, and if need be, a limb can rotate a 360 degrees. This creates the combined effect of turning bouncy legs under the torso into long spindly legs extending outward from it.
The robot isn’t winning any races, but it has endurance. Its battery holds power for hours and the robot can lower itself onto a charging station when it needs to power up. It’s not light, but could be carried into place on a small vehicle or by a couple of troops. Its limbs can push buttons and push open doors, though it would likely take extra modifications to get it to manipulate doorknobs.
For the tunnel exploration, the robot was lowered into place, and then guided by a joystick. Autonomous movement is possible, but using a remote control allowed the human observers to keep a closer eye on what, exactly, the machine was doing underground.
The robot normally navigates by Light Detection and Ranging, remote sensing technology used to measure distances and 3D mapping of the surrounding environment. To better comprehend the terrain in low-light environments, it is also exploring sensors at the end of its feet, providing a sense of touch. All of this could prove critical to taking place underground tunnels fights.
As military forces move in human-built environments they should consider the possibility that remote or autonomous machines, legged as well as winged, could also be traversing in the same way.
The programme is explorting precision Engagement of threats to maintain compatibility with infantry weapon systems without imposing weight or operational burdens on that would negatively affect mission effectiveness. Capabilities of interest include distributed, non-line-of-sight targeting and guided munitions.
Non-Kinetic Engagement disrupt enemy command and control, communications and use of drones. Capabilities of interest include disaggregated electronic surveillance and coordinated effects from distributed platforms. Military is carrying out a number of experiments in communications, EW, loitering munitions and targeting. Services are looking for ways to enhance infantry capabilities using manned-unmanned teaming.
Augmented Spectral Situational Awareness, and Unaided Localisation for Transformative Squads are being tested using autonomous robots with sensor systems to detect enemy locations to target the enemy with a precision grenade before the enemy could detect their movement.
Small units using Electronic Attack Module were able to detect, locate, and attack specific threats in the radio frequency domains, part of larger efforts to put more detection and fires at lower echelons in ground force units. This important work is presently done by humans, who often have to physically place detonation charges on the mines they find. Some day, autonomous robots could perform the same task with less operational risk.
The Swarm Diver is a surface or underwater drones can release swarms of smaller autonomous underwater robots to scout, identify and counter threats in littoral waters. Autonomy is key here, as communicating underwater is difficult and communicating with above-water assets from underwater especially tricky without an intermediary. Should the Swarm Diver project work as intended, swarms of autonomous robots could be the long-awaited answer to the enduring threat posed by autonomous explosives.
Finding new ways to incorporate robots and autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles into warfighting has captured the attention of top commanders but nothing as basic and practical as the gear mule concept has come so close to reality. One autonomous vehicle uses a morphed tire/track for traction run with a one-handed remote control, non-line of sight manoeuvre with onboard sensors and cameras.
Several vehicle designs for fielding may be selected depending on what each vehicle offers as planners look to the terrain challenges of dismounted operations. Armed unmanned ground vehicles have been used to provide stand-off force protection.
Robots will First Be Utilised in Non-Combat Scenarios Like Logistics of Moving Troops, Fuel, Equipment, Ammo. We can start Robot Tech out in carefully limited support roles. Current tech may only be able to power ground robots for less than a full day — but at a fuel dump or ammo depot, unlike a forward patrol, you can just plug them into a diesel generator.
Current AI may not be able to navigate around potholes or landmines without a human guide — but at a forward base, unlike the front line, you can just bulldoze the ground flat and mark obstacles with reflective tape or radio-frequency ID tags.
Robots might break down unexpectedly — but in a maintenance unit, unlike an infantry squad, your mechanics are right there to fix it and the enemy isn’t right there to get you before it’s fixed. How soon can the military start using robots in the rear echelon? As the Army converts supply trucks to run unmanned, it first has to install the same “drive-by-wire” controls found in modern cars and commercial trucks.
Drive by wire enables features like remote monitoring of engine diagnostics — key for predictive maintenance — and automatic collision avoidance — a very basic form of AI taking over for the human driver. Such maintenance features can build experience levels for users and provide feedback to maturing tech.
Predictive maintenance enabled by machine learning has been used by industry for some time by using large amounts of diagnostic data — often updated wirelessly in near-real time — to predict when engines and other components might fail, then tasking mechanics to replace or repair them first. So the first robots will be converted trucks and other existing vehicles. But what about new machines with no equivalent in the Army today?
New shop floor-processing systems telling humans where to go and self-propelled shelves relocating themselves at need are already here “Robots are already being used in warehouses so it’s totally reasonable to expect that there are opportunities today for the military to use robotics in logistics.
One fairly simple thing that has been used in the commercial sector for years that the military hasn’t explored, he said, is robot arms. There’s tremendous potential there for “heavy-duty manipulation” to replace human labor.
“There’s no reason we couldn’t load 20 tank rounds at once instead of soldiers hauling each 50-pound shell individually: Imagine how much faster a tank could get back in action — without its crew having to get out and potentially expose themselves to fire.
We can also look at automating refueling. Robotic arms could replace human labor to manhandle heavy hoses and fuel bladders. In the longer term, small, mobile, and relatively expendable robotic fuelers could replace the convoys of manned tanker trucks that suffered so many losses and centralised fuel depot targets. We can’t have these huge tankers just sitting out there.”
Artificial intelligence isn’t just going on the things that go boom. We need to be able to put it into bulldozers, scrapers, water purification systems and transportation systems.” Near-term, non-combat applications refine AI, ground navigation, radar and laser sensing, and so on. Those systems are going to be teaching us what we need to put in place for combat systems.
1. Improving accuracy/time
Automation can reduce errors associated with manual processes, which in turn, helps plan operational control through providing accurate, real-time information on inventory levels. Through streamlining processes, supply automation boosts time savings by reducing the time associated with implementing labor intensive tasks.
2. Real time inventory
Lost inventory can become extremely expensive. Screens can show exactly where each item is at each moment, as they are navigated through the system. High accuracy “counting robots” cruise the mission space, scanning aisles and view inventory in “real time.”
3. Systems Integration
Robot systems integration pull the whole structure together and integrates data regarding what’s high in demand, what needs to be picked and shipped quickly and also help make sure that robots aren’t going to the same location, completing tasks individually, and not running into each other.
4. . Metrics
Autonomous vehicles have sensors to automatically gather data, which can be uploaded to various applications to track metrics includes pick up size time needed for delivery, where the delivery vehicle is, how long it’s been in the area contributes to more predictability so it’s easier to tell what is being moved, when, and where.
Laser sensors can distinguish troops from autonomous vehicles, to prevent collisions, Guide wires might lay out a definite path for vehicles, rather than free roaming. Vehicles are typically programmed to reduce speed around corners, and can detect when objects are in the way—then it will stop.
6. Automated Gate System
When gates can be controlled automatically through an automated gate system, throughput is increased at access points. An automated gate system will typically include the ability to control gates from other facilities, calling for less resources to monitor gate functions, and crowding at exit and entrance points, increase visibility and capacity to predict and plan for driver traffic and patterns.
7. Mobile System
A mobile robot system means that robots can handle an operational system without the need for physical or electromechanical direction. Mobile shelves also mean that product is always accurately located.
8. Faster response/Error Reduction
A major goal is to reduce transit times because the longer it takes to deliver goods, the greater is the cost of carrying these goods. Autonomous systems are invariably faster than manual systems and make fewer errors always deliver parts to the exact address.
9. Impact on Transportation.
Issues in transportation arise when system behavior is hard to form based on the predictable pattern impacted by errors, traffic errors. In such situations, decisions can be predicted based on data to gauge volume and simplify planning by designing a number of decision-making tools.
10. Traffic patterns.
The traffic flow affects transport significantly. When the data related to traffic is used for traffic management, the information can be used to dramatically reduce the congestion in traffic as well as streamline it and build smarter traffic solutions.