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Unmanned on the ground: Autonomous land system developments

Beyond consumer and commercial life, rapid developments in automation are also transforming warfare. However, while unmanned and autonomous capabilities have proliferated in the air domain, land systems have not been so quick to adopt such new technologies. In a report first published to Janes subscribers in December 2020, Scott Alexander reports...

Over the past two decades nearly 100 countries, as well as non-state actors, have developed or acquired unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities. However, although UAV technology has advanced rapidly since 2000, land and sea systems have largely not kept pace. That said, some unmanned programmes for land and sea platforms are now gaining momentum. For example, in the maritime domain the Sea Hunter anti-submarine warfare (ASW) unmanned surface vehicle (USV), a 132 ft (40 m) trimaran self-piloting vessel for submarine tracking, is undergoing trials for the US Navy. Meanwhile, large commercial long-range heavy-lift cargo UAVs are being developed and autonomous unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) such as self-driving cars will enable road travel with no human interaction other than pressing ‘go’.

The financial benefits of unmanned capabilities are considerable, particularly where operations put human life at risk. For instance, quite beyond the price of human loss, losing the pilot of an F-35A Joint Strike Fighter would cost more than USD10 million in terms of the training investment made over five years alone. Moreover, the death of a single operator could be so costly in political capital that it could compromise military campaigns, destroy re-election bids, and disgrace administrations.

Multi-Utility Tactical Transport (MUTT), credit: US Army

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