US and UK forces test robotic convoys to resupply troops
US and UK armed forces have completed their first joint field test of robotic convoys. At the US Army's Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center in Grayling, Michigan Britain's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), and the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center demonstrated how British-designed semi-autonomous logistic convoys can operate with autonomous ground-based and aerial resupply systems.
One of the enduring problems with infantry combat is that soldiers on the front line are the sharp point of a very large, complex logistical supply line that suffers from a dangerous bottleneck. The major military powers run on remarkably advanced systems to keep their soldiers in the field, but the last mile of the supply line hasn't changed that much from Roman times with vitally needed shipments of food, water, ammunition, medicine, and batteries often being dragged overland by hand.
This problem not only means that keeping soldiers supplied is extremely difficult but also that valuable personnel are sent into danger when they could be better used for more important tasks. For this reason, the kind of military robot that armies are currently most interested in isn't the Terminator killing machines of science fiction, but a kind of robotic mule that can bring up the rounds and rations.
As part of this effort, American and British forces and engineers have spent the past three years looking at a variety of autonomous ground vehicles and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAVs) to solve logistical problems. According to Peter Stockel, Dstl’s Autonomy Innovation Lead, this culminated in the recent tests, which were designed to get a better understanding of not only how to integrate these technologies, but also learning how to develop new battlefield tactics and procedures for coalition forces.
For the Michigan exercises, a robotic convoy made up of several US and UK vehicles was tested in a number of modes, including a semi-autonomous one where the convoy followed a lead vehicle through a series of waypoints using leader data and their own sensors. In addition, the exercise demonstrated operation and mission logistics planning, autonomous and semi-autonomous load-handling vehicles, and autonomous last-mile resupply capabilities.
"[The US-UK Coalition Assured Autonomous Resupply (CAAR)] is a great example of successful US/UK Science and Technology and warfighter collaboration," says Brigadier Darrell Amison, the British Army’s Head of Capability Combat Service Support. "Over three years of trials and experimentation CAAR has rapidly developed the Army’s thinking around the use of autonomous capability within an information-led, integrated and technology-enabled supply chain. Exploitation into the Army’s core Combat Service Support modernization and transformation programs is now a priority and we’ll seek opportunities for collaborative capability development where it makes sense to do so."
Source: Ministry of Defence