Thursday, December 29, 2016

US Army armor/robotic swarm plan...

via National Interest.
The Army is preparing to configure Abrams tank prototypes able to control nearby “robotic” wing-man vehicles which fire weapons, carry ammunition and conduct reconnaissance missions for units on the move in combat, service officials said.
Although still in the early stages of discussion and conceptual development, the notion of manned-unmanned teaming for the Abrams continues to gain traction among Army and General Dynamics Land Systems developers.
Algorithms are progressing to the point wherein they will be able to allow an Abrams tank crew to operate multiple nearby “wing-man” robotic vehicles in a command and control capacity while on the move in combat.

Army researchers, engineers and weapons developers are preparing to prototype some of these possibilities for future Abrams tanks, Maj. Gen. David Bassett, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, told Scout warrior in an interview.
“As I look to the future and I think about game-changing technologies, manned-unmanned teaming is a big part of that. There’s a set of things that we think could be really transformational,” Bassett said.
This kind of dynamic could quickly change the nature of landwar.

Autonomous or semi-autonomous robotic vehicles flanking tanks in combat, quite naturally, could bring a wide range of combat-enhancing possibilities. Ammunition-carrying robotic vehicles could increase the fire-power of tanks while in combat more easily; unmanned platforms could also carry crucial Soldier and combat supplies, allowing an Abrams tank to carry a larger payload of key combat supplies.
Also, perhaps of greatest significance, an unmanned vehicle controlled by an Abrams tank could fire weapons at an enemy while allowing the tank to operate at a safer, more risk-reducing stand-off range.
As unmanned vehicles, robotic platforms could be agile and much lighter weight than heavily armored vehicles designed to carry Soldiers into high-risk combat situations. By virtue of being able to operate without placing Soldiers at risk, tank-controlled ground drones could also be used to test and challenge enemy defenses, fire-power and formations. Furthermore, advanced sensors could be integrated into the ground drones to handle rugged terrain while beaming back video and data of enemy locations and movements.
“You don’t need armor on an auxiliary kit,” Michael Peck, Business Development Manager, General Dynamics Land Systems, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Manned Abrams tanks, therefore, could make use of advanced thermal sights, aided by robotic sensors, to locate and destroy enemies at ranges keeping them safe from enemy tank fire. Sensor robots could locate enemy artillery and rocket positions, convoys and even some drones in the air in a manner that better alerts attacking ground forces.

Land drones could also help forces in combat breach obstacles, carry an expeditionary power supply, help with remote targeting and check route areas for IEDs, Army and General Dynamics statements said.
Some of the early prototyping is being explored at the Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, Warren, Mich.
Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley has consistently emphasized that manned-unmanned teaming and autonomy central to the Army’s preparations for the future, Bassett explained.
“The Chief has been really candid with us that what whatever we build for the future has that concept in mind that we are laying the architectures in that will support that,” he added.
Thus far in the Army, there are both tele-operated vehicles controlled by a human with a lap-top and joystick as well as platforms engineered with autonomous navigation systems able to increasingly perform more and more functions without needing human intervention.
For instance, TARDEC has developed leader-follower convoys wherein tactical trucks are engineered to autonomously follow vehicles in front of them. These applique kits, which can be installed on vehicles, include both tele-operated options as well as automated functions. The kits include GPS technology, radios, cameras and computer algorithms designed for autonomous navigation.
Story here. 

I just don't know.  It sounds great.  Futuristic.  Almost sci-fi-ish...but will it work?  Let's not forget that at its heart you're talking about networks, computers and vehicles.  All of the above requires maintenance at best, will break/need repair and if the worst happens you'll have to recover it least it fall into enemy hands.

One other thing.

We've been here before and the US Army/Marine Corps had a ready made
solution to the convoy problem and didn't bite when the IED problem first popped up and everyone was shitting themselves trying to find a solution.  Remember the Terramax (pic to the right)?  Yeah.  An autonomous 7 ton truck that was ready for production and went thru all the tests?  How about the Carnegie Mellon "Crusher"?  It was tested thru all kinds of muck and mounted some interesting weapon systems.

If that's not enough then how about BAE's Black Knight!

My bigger point is that we could have already been testing these concepts with experimental divisions like the Army once did with the 9th ID to see if they might work but we haven't been serious enough to pull the trigger.

Everyone focuses on aviation but the ground combat element (force) has been ready for a technological leap for at least two decades but leadership hasn't had the imagination, guts or daring to see what might and might not work.

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