Soldiers Team With Robots in Key Experiments

Soldiers Team With Robots in Key Experiments

A Warriors Corner presentation at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium and Exposition in Huntsville, Alabama.
Photo by: AUSA/Jared Lieberher

The Army is moving forward with efforts to integrate robotic vehicles and unmanned aerial systems with human operators.

One example is the robotic autonomous systems platoon, which the Army has tested at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, and Fort Moore, Georgia, formerly known as Fort Benning.

When paired with the armored brigade combat team, the platoon features four small-UAS teams, four Robotic Combat Vehicles and two control vehicles, said Brig. Gen. Geoffrey Norman, director of Army Futures Command’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team.

“It’s about improving the armored brigade combat team as a formation,” Norman said March 26 during a Warriors Corner presentation at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium and Exposition in Huntsville, Alabama.

The Army has been conducting experiments with this platoon and learning some key lessons, Norman said. The number of robotic platoons eventually assigned to an armored brigade “will be subject to some experimentation right now,” he said.

In combat, the platoon can disrupt the enemy by making first contact and increasing soldiers’ situational awareness of the battlefield. It also can leverage fires and other effects, which “disrupts the enemy and throws them off their game at the outset,” Norman said.

The robotic autonomous systems platoon also can detect and deceive the enemy, deny and degrade the enemy’s advance and destroy and defeat them, he said.

“This is about formation improvement, not just adding a new platoon to the armored brigade combat team,” Norman said. “We’re trying to optimize the performance of the humans in these formations.”

By having robots do what robots do best, soldiers are freed up to do what they do best, Norman said. “We want to increase the lethality of the formations,” he said.

Moving forward, the Army continues to build on its Robotic Combat Vehicle program, said Maj. Gen. Glenn Dean, program executive officer for Ground Combat Systems.

The Army is currently conducting experiments with surrogate prototypes, off-the-shelf items it bought for experimentation, he said. It also is working on the “actual Robotic Combat Vehicle platforms,” from control vehicles to the warrior-machine interface to the communications systems, Dean said.

The Army also has four contractors competing to build the Robotic Combat Vehicle platform, with plans to select one vendor “late next year,” Dean said.

Also in the works is a software pathway to further develop the vehicles’ autonomous capabilities.

“Maneuvering on the ground, frankly, is a very hard problem,” Dean said, particularly when the vehicles go off-road.

Retired Col. Travis Thompson, deputy director of the Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team, said the goal is to protect soldiers. “Ultimately, it’s trading steel for lives, soldiers’ lives,” he said. “That’s what this is all about.”