Tomorrow’s battlefield won’t be limited to direct enemy fire. It’s expected to be a hyperactive environment of cyber and electronic warfare where warfighters are contested the minute they leave a start-point to the minute they arrive on the objective. As this activity increases, so does the risk.
Last week, the U.S. Army’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center together with the Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) Cross-Functional Team took a major step toward reducing risk for Soldiers when they hosted a live demo here of the Mission Enabling Technologies Demonstrator (MET-D) and Robotic Combat Vehicle Phase 1 surrogates.
The MET-D is an experimental system of vehicles designed to help Army leaders determine how best to integrate unmanned vehicles into ground combat formations. This technology puts ground robots between a threat and the human element.
“This is a revolutionary change to how we fight war,” says Maj. Cory Wallace, Robotic Combat Vehicle lead for the NGCV Cross Functional Team. “We’re at the cutting edge of what you can expect to see military operations look like 10 to 20 years from now.
“Essentially, with this technology we’re offloading the risk from the Soldier onto robotic platforms. What that does is gives commanders additional space and time to make decisions, and ultimately this gets down to making conditions in which Soldiers operate safer.”
The MET-D leverages the latest technology in sensors, data display, graphical user interface, drive-by-wire capability, unmanned aerial vehicle-provided video, and advanced communications to support Soldiers. Robotic Combat Vehicles, operated from the manned combat vehicle, are unmanned platforms which can make contact with the enemy before the Soldiers do, while achieving overmatch–decisive mobility, survivability, and lethality–against future operating environment threats.
Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, NGCV CFT director, pointed out that everyone’s seen the action movies where robots perform myriad, sometimes risky, tasks–detecting and disarming bombs, search and rescue, and firing weapons, to name a few.
“We’re putting that into reality today,” Coffman said. “The battlefield is filled with really awful places where humans do tasks today they shouldn’t have to. Our American sons and daughters go out there and willingly put themselves in those positions to accomplish a mission. But today, with the way our technology has advanced, our robotic vehicles can move forward of a manned force to see what’s out there, detect chemicals, put direct fire on the enemy, determine whether or not there’s an obstacle, and then team with humans to determine the best course of action.”
Wallace agrees that robotic technology is an opportunity for the Army to stop putting Soldiers in positions of extreme risk.
“It is 2019–there’s no reason why we are using humans to conduct nuclear biological and chemical reconnaissance,” Wallace said. “There’s no reason why we are using humans to breach complex obstacles while under fire. We have the technology to be better. The technology on our cars is often better than what we have on some of the combat platforms today. I am very excited to see that paradigm shift.”
On Aug. 28, following several months of shakedown testing at Camp Grayling, two MET-Ds and four RCV surrogates were turned over to the Army Test and Evaluation Command at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
“There, the vehicles will go through even more extensive testing to make certain they’re safe for our Soldiers to operate,” said Chris Ostrowski, Program Manager for NGCV Experimental Prototyping.
After that, the vehicle sets are slated to move to Fort Carson for Soldier experimentation. “In Colorado, we will put the vehicles in the hands of Soldiers to conduct live experiments under real tactical scenarios,” Ostrowski said.
While robotic technology is a novel approach to solving ground vehicle problems for the Army and Soldiers, this latest demonstration marks the early stages of a multi-year process where the Army will determine the best way to integrate new technologies and autonomous vehicles into the way it fights.
“We’re linked in with academia, we’re linked in with small industry, and we’re open to all solutions,” Wallace said. “This is a great opportunity for us to reach out to non-traditional partners and bring them into the ecosystem and learn of the best of breed solutions that are available to ultimately give our Soldiers the best equipment possible on the battlefield.”