The US Army's Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE) at Fort Benning, Georgia recently provided a glimpse into the future of combat as robotic and autonomous systems worked together as robotic "wingmen" in simulated combat operations. The Maneuver Robotics and Autonomous Systems (MRAS) demonstration conducted on August 22 was the first such event in a three-year program aimed at bringing together robotic combat vehicles and unmanned aerial systems (UASs) to improve ground combat formations.

According to the Army, MRAS is a joint operation between the US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, US Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center and the Office of Naval Research. The purpose is to pair UASs and unmanned ground systems as a way to extend the range and engagement time of ground forces while reducing the risk to flesh and blood soldiers.

To illustrate current progress in the field, the MCoE staged ground maneuvers using a Humvee and an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier with the human crews replaced by experimental robotic systems, turning them into cybernetic "wingmen."

The first of the Fort Benning displays was the Robotic Wingman Joint Capability Technology Demonstration that used the robotic Humvee, M113, and aerial drone in a live-fire exercise to demonstrate the ability of the robotic vehicles to enhance situational awareness and the ability to deploy ground robots from the personnel carrier.

In the second display, called the Abrams Lethality Enable Demonstration, the robotic M113 generated a smoke screen to provide cover for a pair of M1 Abrams battle tanks to allow them to engage with and fire upon an "enemy" target. Both of these demonstrations relied on the ability of the robotic systems to identify and provide the required capabilities on time. The goal of MRAS is to develop the robots' capabilities and use them on the battlefield to make US soldiers "more survivable, lethal, and effective."

"Robotics and autonomous systems help provide a way to give us enhanced capability to the formation, and provide a greater range of operations," says Dr. Robert Sadowski, Robotics Senior Research Scientist, US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center. "We can use robots to do those things they do well and offset those things that humans do well."