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USAF awards autonomous target contract to US-UK team

The US Air Force (USAF) has awarded a nine-month contract to US company Mountain Horse Solutions and UK companies Digital Concepts Engineering (DCE) and tpgroup to jointly develop and demonstrate fully autonomous targets.

A remotely operated Warrior fitted with the Marionette system was demonstrated at the Salisbury Plain Training Area during the Autonomous Warrior 2018 Army Warfighting Experiment (AWE18). (Janes/Melanie Rovery)

A remotely operated Warrior fitted with the Marionette system was demonstrated at the Salisbury Plain Training Area during the Autonomous Warrior 2018 Army Warfighting Experiment (AWE18). (Janes/Melanie Rovery)

The three companies said in a joint press release on 9 February that they would develop and build a fully autonomous prototype target that will be demonstrated to the USAF during the second quarter of this year. The companies hope the demonstration contract can be converted into a long-term supply contract for up to 10 years.

The press release said the targets are ultimately intended to simulate convoys of multiple vehicle types moving at speed, providing a high level of realism for pilots during targeting and strike training and munition capability assessment. Initially, the kit will be used on Humvees or similar vehicles and will eventually represent wheeled and tracked vehicles, including Chinese and Russian armoured fighting vehicles and artillery and air-defence systems, according to the contract opportunity posted on the US federal government’s beta.SAM.gov website in December 2019.

DCE will provide its Marionette universal control system and tpgroup its North path planning software, which will be modified to meet the USAF’s requirements. DCE director Lionel Nierop said, “We have already demonstrated our technology on the UK’s Warrior armoured vehicle, showing that our Marionette ‘toolkit’ can convert any vehicle to autonomous use quickly and cost effectively.” John Shimell, tpgroup’s head of autonomy, said that the autonomous targets have to function in a GPS-denied environment.

Domo Tactical Communications (DTC) of the UK supplies its Mesh radios with MANET technology as Marionette’s communications system.

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