US Army explores unmanned swarm applications
US Army Futures Command (AFC) is exploring the potential to deploy UAS and UGVs to act as complementary swarm components, with multiple autonomous systems acting as a cohesive unit, actively coordinating their actions.
Once mobilised, the swarms would enable small units to quickly implement manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) for a variety of mission types. Data would flow quickly from the swarm back to soldiers, mounted or dismounted, who could then provide further instructions, if necessary, to the swarms.
Applications could include time-consuming or dangerous tasks. The army wants robustness, flexibility and persistence, so is moving away from controlling through tele-operating and toward commanding.
AFC's Combat Capabilities Development Command for C5ISR is exploring the extent to which swarming robotics can support commanders and their staff during the execution of mission command - the army's function that promotes freedom and speed of action. It combines the centralised intent from the commander with the decentralised execution of subordinate commanders, who then decide how best to achieve the commander's objectives.
In executing mission command, commanders must have a broad perspective, understanding and knowledge of activities throughout complex operational environments. Swarming technologies provide versatility for a ground force commander to accomplish different mission sets based on the reconnaissance requirements.
A key goal of the project will be how best to combine a soldier's cognitive skills with autonomous robotics systems. To date work has centred on reducing cognitive overload by filtering and prioritising data for actionable information and developing simple-to-use systems that would free up soldiers to perform other functions.
Capt Troy Makulec, Army Armor officer, said: ‘Swarming improves the ability to target specific locations with minimal collateral damage because we can identify our targets ahead of time. When we combine manned and unmanned systems, it's a force multiplier that turns a platoon into a company. Whether it's ground or aerial swarming, it improves the likelihood of survival for our soldiers on the ground.’
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