AuthorHarper, Jon

The Army is about to kick off a multi-year series of experiments as it moves toward establishing a program of record for robotic combat vehicles that could roam future battlefields.

One of the key benefits of these types of platforms, also known as RCVs, is keeping soldiers out of harm's way.

"Fundamentally a robot is supposed to do the three Ds--dumb, dirty and dangerous tasks," said Maj. Cory Wallace, robotic combat vehicle requirements developer for the Army's next-generation combat vehicle cross-functional team.

Moving through potential minefields or ambush sites are just some examples of these types of operations.

"If you're going into a... situation where it's unknown, much better to put some type of unmanned vehicle in first and get a look around and then you can follow in with manned capability," Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said during a recent meeting with reporters.

The service's RCV campaign of learning will include three live experiments between now and fiscal year 2024 that will increase in complexity and scope over time. Virtual testing will support each live event.

"We're learning lessons very, very cheap in a virtual experiment," Wallace noted. "We can refine platform requirements and we can learn some of the lessons for the tactics, techniques and procedures... in a very cost-effective way that we then can spiral into the live" events.

Phase 1, a platoon-level experiment, was slated to kick off in the March-April timeframe at Fort Carson, Colorado. Surrogate RCVs that are modified M113 armored personnel carriers will be accompanied by control vehicles known as Mission Enabling Technologies Demonstrators, or MET-Ds.

The MET-Ds--which are modified Bradley Fighting Vehicles--will host a variety of technologies created by Army Combat Capabilities Development Command such as sensors, autonomy and drive-by-wire kits that could be integrated onto future or legacy platforms, according to Christopher Ostrowski, associate director of experimental prototyping. Personnel in each control vehicle will manage a pair of RCVs during the event.

"We have taken an armored combat vehicle and turned it into a two-man crew operation, and then we have added two RCV operators to each in the back," he said. "We're going to exercise a range of operations to include teleoperation and autonomy via the experiment." Someday, Strykers, joint light tactical vehicles or optionally manned fighting vehicles could serve as control vehicles.

Phase 1 will focus on a cavalry scout platoon enabled by two MET-Ds controlling a total of four RCVs.

"They're going to conduct some really rudimentary reconnaissance tasks that are fundamental to every cav scout platoon--screen, route reconnaissance, area reconnaissance--and then we're also going to have a demonstration with a special operations unit," Wallace said. "I can't really get into what particular unit it is, but the special operations folks will also check to see if...

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