Unmanned ground systems on the battlefield provide critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data and help counter improvised explosive devices. Now, ground robots are positioned to expand into armed missions in Afghanistan.
The notion of robots as trusted companions on the battlefield is no longer limited to the scope of science fiction or TV adventure. With the U.S. Army's Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance and its members forging ahead on autonomous technologies, warfighters may just very well have their own "Lassie" to save the day. What more can be done to enhance robotic artificial intelligence to benefit the troops? Share you ideas here.
An aircraft developed by a U.S. corporation is serving as a test-bed for advanced unmanned aerial systems. The internally funded program will employ a fighter-size prototype the company previously designed for a now-defunct military program. The applications for the platform have yet to be determined but will be based on customer desires and requests. The first flight is scheduled to launch late next year, and the company believes it will help shape the future of autonomous air technologies.
An armed ground robot with its own sensors and weapons is undergoing operational trials with U.S. troops. Designed to support soldiers in nonlethal and direct combat situations, the robot features a variety of sensors to locate enemy forces and a machine gun and grenade launchers to suppress them. The machine is also equipped with safety and communications equipment allowing coalition forces to operate it at considerable distances for reconnaissance and infiltration missions.
Autonomous unmanned vessels soon may be patrolling harbors and conducting coastal reconnaissance missions. The prototype for these future robo boats can operate cooperatively with other robotic surface craft and navigate to a destination without human guidance. Designed for use in shallow waters, the boat can connect to and be controlled by U.S. Navy ships via tactical communications networks.
Soldiers operating in built-up neighborhoods can receive more timely and complete information about enemy forces by harnessing low-flying unmanned aerial vehicles. An autonomous system emerging from development in a far-reaching program coordinates delivery of video from unmanned aerial platforms and other military reconnaissance assets.
Unmanned aerial vehicles have become such an integral part of missions that it is difficult to remember a time when the U.S. military relied solely on manned aircraft. As the U.S. Navy prepares to launch into a similar brave new world where crewless platforms propel warfighters out of harm's way, the service faces challenges beyond the technical hurdles. Some issues can be resolved by industry; others will require a worldwide national-level consensus that will change the maritime domain with ramifications not seen since the dawn of modern shipbuilding.
Ships without captains or crew are cruising from the open seas to the coastline. These developmental craft from both the public and private sectors will improve security and capabilities near land and keep sailors and others out of danger.
Diminutive but potent, a versatile unmanned micro air vehicle leaps tall buildings to look for rooftop shooters or hovers and stares through windows to search within for hidden enemies. New applications continually tumble forth for a 14-pound ducted fan vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. This nascent platform rapidly is being recognized for its important platoon-level infantry and cavalry reconnaissance capabilities.
A demonstration technology program underway is developing U.S. military weapons that can travel at greater supersonic speeds. The Revolutionary Approach to Time-critical Long Range Strike, or RATTLRS, system will expand high-speed flight capabilities and improve performance for expendable supersonic vehicles.
Recent flights of the Spider-Lion fuel-cell-powered unmanned aerial vehicle have shed light on the potential for deploying fuel-cell technologies in the future. Researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory designed the Spider-Lion, and while the aircraft itself is not intended as a tactical device, it will serve as a high-impact research platform for testing fuel-cell technology. The two successful flights mark the first time a fuel-cell-powered unmanned aerial vehicle has flown for several hours.
A close U.S. ally is focusing its unmanned systems development on homeland security. Israel has a history of adopting innovative technologies to suit its strategic needs, and its armed forces were among the first to develop and adopt unmanned aerial vehicles for reconnaissance and electronic warfare operations. The nation's aerospace industry has become adept at creating a variety of unmanned air, ground and sea platforms to meet changing requirements and to fill new roles.
Small and lightweight loitering cruise missiles with pinpoint precision are playing a deadly battlefield hide and seek in all weather conditions against hard-to-find mobile enemies. Armed with highly lethal warheads, a family of new weapons is emerging from development for both U.S. Army and Air Force applications. Moreover, these weapons hold the potential to significantly alter warfare.