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Military Capabilities

US Army's autonomous systems strategy eyes unmanned combat vehicles sooner

09 March 2017
In the 2020s the army wants to explore unmanned combat vehicles but in the shorter-term it will focus on situational awareness and unburdening soldiers potentially with platforms similar to the Squad Mission Support System, shown here, which received mixed reviews during its demonstration in Afghanistan. Source: Lockheed Martin

A US Army Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) strategy, long expected to be finalised and 'soon published', was published on 8 March and called for mid-term development of unmanned combat vehicles, among other things.

The RAS is separated into broad goals over different time periods. The army said it is setting "realistic objectives in the near-term (2017-20), feasible objectives in the mid-term (2021-30), and visionary objectives for the far-term (2031-40)".

Through 2020 the army plans to mature concepts and initiate or continue programmes that would increase situational awareness for dismounted forces at lower echelons, lighten carried loads for dismounted forces, improve sustainment via automated ground resupply, improve route clearance systems, and improve explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) platforms and payloads, the army said.

In the mid-term the RAS will primarily focus on increased situational awareness with more advanced and smaller systems and swarming capabilities, lightening soldiers' loads with exoskeletons, fielding fully automated convoy operations, and, notably, improving manoeuvre "with unmanned combat vehicles and advanced payloads".

This represents a key change in the strategy, which was first unveiled by the service in 2014, and moves up unmanned combat systems from a far- to mid-term objective. The army said it would seek to "introduce unmanned combat vehicles designed to function and manoeuvre across variable and rough terrain under combat conditions". It expects the first models of a robotic or autonomous combat vehicle to "have optionally-manned, teleoperated, or semi-autonomous technology".

For the far-term the army said it would work to displace "antiquated autonomous systems and fields new autonomous UGS and UAS [unmanned ground vehicle and unmanned aerial vehicles] developed through commercial research and science and technology investments made in the near- and mid-terms".

This would allow for further increased situational awareness "with persistent reconnaissance from swarming systems, autonomous aerial cargo delivery, and manoeuvre with unmanned combat vehicles.

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