Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971

2020-12-13

Prototype Warfare

Smart Way Forward to Battlefield with RAS
 
Men and machines have become inseparable. Pressing the ‘Smart’ key is no more merely an option, but a compulsion. On the military front, Robotic and Autonomous Systems (RAS) technology is the ‘new technology’ that has changed the name of the game and has the potential to alter the nature of warfare.  
 
For those who cry: “why now?” or advocate a fast follower approach, the RAS train has already left the station. As Australian General Angus Campbell, when he was Chief of Army, neatly summed up the current opportunity (and risk): “Late adopters of technology usually struggle to catch up.” 
 
Yes, winning wars today and in the future will depend on adaptive leaders, skilled Soldiers, and well-trained teams empowered with advanced technologies.
 
Some misconceptions do prevail, but RAS technology has immediate military utility, which will evolve over time. It offers two significant strategic benefits for Land forces: first, it can help mitigate their combat mass (or effect) challenges and, secondly, it can provide a broad range of military capability that can transform how they ‘fight’ and ‘operate’ below the threshold of conflict. 
 
Since November 2019, QinetiQ has run a series of internal and external workshops with scientists, Soldiers and defence industry representatives to explore how RAS technology can improve and accelerate Land forces’ manned/unmanned teamed capability to inform comprehensive Land RAS strategy. 
 
QinetiQ’s work and the U.S. Army Robots and Autonomous systems strategy report have led to this report which is designed to stimulate timely dialogue and debate on this important topic.  The idea is to explore the implications of RAS technologies and how to embrace them in a coherent way within a strategy, delivered through an experimentation and acquisition portfolio. 
 
RAS implementation is not merely a process of platform acquisition: it is a digital transformation.  Without enabling information architecture and due consideration of other components of capability/lines of development, it will almost be impossible to create coherent manned/unmanned teams to exploit the full potential of RAS.
 
A portfolio-based approach to spiral RAS acquisition, combined with concerted multi-year experimentation, would provide the necessary focus, coherence and integration to achieve the right capability outcomes in a flexible and agile way. 
 
The integration of RAS will help future Army forces, operating as part of Joint teams, to defeat enemy organisations, control terrain, secure populations, and consolidate gains. 
 
Strong RAS capabilities will also allow future Army forces to conduct operations consistent with the concept of multi-domain battle, projecting power outward from land into maritime, space, and cyberspace domains to preserve Joint Force freedom of movement and action. 
Army leaders need to think about how to integrate RAS into operations; learn through rigorous experimentation; analyse what we learn to focus and prioritise efforts; and implement RAS-enabled concepts across doctrine, organisation, training, leadership and education, personnel, facilities and policy. 
 
As the flip side is that enemies would attempt to disrupt advanced capabilities, emulate technological advantages and expand efforts beyond physical battlegrounds, the Army must constantly assess RAS efforts and adapt.
 
Acquisition and modernisation budgets may remain tight, but Western nations do need a more comprehensive approach to adopting and exploiting RAS capabilities. 
 
Pursuing RAS allows Army Soldiers and teams to defeat enemies and maintain overmatch across five objectives: increase situational awareness; lighten the warfighters’ physical and cognitive workloads; sustain the force with increased distribution, throughput, and efficiency; facilitate movement and manoeuvre; and increase force protection.
 
Strategic Logic for Military Use of RAS
It is recognised that Land force generation in the digital era relies upon the complementarity of humans and machines, and the absorption of RAS technologies in a way that delivers a material difference to how Land forces protect, engage, contest and fight.
 
In the short term, it is crucial to set the technical foundations for RAS’ long-term exploitation and establish the right panDLOD approach to enable challenges and opportunities to be identified and seized early as an enabler for longer term success.
 
In the medium to longer term, integrating RAS into any ground combat system is likely to reduce the cost and increase the effectiveness of maintaining combat mass to address inherently dynamic threats across the spectrum of conflict. 
 
Exploiting the potential of RAS technology calls for a vision to drive ambitious but realistic operational concepts. The U.S. Army’s RAS strategy, Australian Army’s RAS strategy and a recently expressed British Army goal for a manned/ unmanned teamed battle group in 2022 and brigade in 2024 are first steps which ought to drive a profoundly different view of experimentation, modernisation and acquisition. 
 
Realistic Objectives Outlined
The U.S. Army expresses its vision for RAS by outlining realistic objectives in the near-term (2017-2020), feasible objectives in the mid-term (2021-2030), and visionary objectives for the far-term (2031-2040). Near-term objectives are partially funded in current budgets. Mid-term priorities have research and procurement funding lines submitted for the budget under consideration. Visionary objectives have limited research and development funding programmed in the budget.
 
Over the next 25 years, three technology advancements are essential to allow the fastest and cost effective achievement of the RAS capability objectives: autonomy, artificial intelligence, and common control. 
 
Autonomy is the level of independence that humans grant a system to execute a given task in a specific environment. It is based on a combination of sensors and advanced computing to navigate this environment and the software sophistication necessary for machine decision-making. 
 
Enhanced autonomy capabilities will mean fewer Soldiers are required for robot control as RAS perform dull, dirty and dangerous tasks on their own. Higher levels of autonomy will permit RAS to perform higher risk missions for longer duration, expand operational depth and standoff distance, and allow Soldiers to focus on those missions humans do best.
 
Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the capability of computer systems to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence such as perception, conversation, and decision-making. Advances in AI are making it possible to cede to machines many tasks long regarded as impossible for machines to perform. AI will play a key role in RAS development as reasoning and learning in computers evolves.
 
AI will improve the ability for RAS to operate independently in tasks such as off-road driving and analysing and managing mass amounts of data for simplified human decision-making. Increasingly, AI will account for operational factors such as mission parameters, rules of engagement, and detailed terrain analysis.
 
As human-machine collaboration matures, AI will contribute to faster decision-making in five areas: identifying strategic indications and warnings; advancing narratives and countering adversarial propaganda; supporting operational/campaign-level decision-making; enabling leaders to employ “mixed” manned/unmanned formations; and enhancing the conduct of specific defensive missions in which functions of speed, amount of information, and synchronisation might overwhelm human decision making.
 
In addition to advancements of autonomy, AI and common control, the Army requires government-owned architecture, interoperability, common platforms, and modular payloads as additional software and hardware to realise the following benefits:
-Cost-savings with common RAS platforms means additional funds to purchase more robots. 
-Faster upgrades to support innovation and accelerated capability development. 
-Component/payload modularity to facilitate RAS integration in different mission sets. For example, in one mission a medium UGS can be
used to carry extra supplies, and in the next employ a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) sensor payload, while in a third mission, it may emplace a surveillance asset.
 
Finally, cyber protection and mission assurance are critical for effective RAS development and employment. 
 
To accomplish the capability objectives in this strategy, the Army must invest and adjust transformation priorities to achieve specific goals over the next 25 years. The following sections identify the priorities in three broad time horizons.
 
Near-Term (2017-2020)
Through 2020, the Army matures concepts and initiates or continues programmes to increase situational awareness, lighten the soldier load, improve sustainment, facilitate movement, and protect the force.
 
To increase situational awareness for dismounted forces in the near term, the Army procures more man portable RAS at lower echelons, capitalising on better  endurance, sensory-obstacle avoidance, autonomy and miniaturisation for small UGS and UAS that enable tactical forces to make contact with threats on their own terms. 
 
To increase situational awareness for mounted forces, the Army invests in tethered and untethered UAS that feed autonomous navigational systems and send video streams to leaders. While stationary, these UAS support local security operations.
 
To reduce the amount of equipment carried by dismounted formations, the Army pursues ground RAS platforms of varied scalable sizes and mission configurations. Soldiers operating dismounted for long periods will shift physical burdens to RAS platforms that provide a mobile power source and carry equipment, weapons, ammunition, water, food, and other supplies. To lighten the cognitive load, the Army continues advancements in computing/AI, clearing fires and intelligence analysis. 
 
To protect the force, the Army continues investment in RAS for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) operations including advanced EOD technologies (e.g., route clearance payloads and increased autonomy for small robots to clear routes and obstacles faster). 
 
Mid-Term (2021-2030)
From 2021-2030, the primary focus is improvements in situational awareness, Soldier load reduction, sustainment and manoeuvre. The Army improves the ability to develop and sustain understanding through human-machine collaboration, advanced RAS, and swarming capabilities and also invests in new programmes to pursue exoskeleton to reduce Soldiers’ physical load and an unmanned combat vehicle to deliver advanced capabilities to manoeuvre units. RAS capabilities support Army formations by providing advanced situational awareness tools and improve manoeuvre and lethality of air-ground teams configured with manned and unmanned combat systems. 
 
To continue transferring the soldier load onto RAS platforms, the Army increases autonomy in medium-sized and larger UGS for increased resupply throughput and movement of squad enablers between dismounted echelons. Medium-sized and larger UGS platforms will make one of the biggest leaps in capability when the Army adds Modular Mission Payloads (MMPs), such as CBRN and ISR sensors, lethal capabilities, communications packages and medium UAS platforms. The Army improves automated sustainment by adding advanced appliqué robotic systems to new vehicle fleets. Where in the near-term, automated resupply only followed manned lead vehicles, in the mid-term, vehicles will move autonomously among security elements. 
 
Casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) requires greater efficiency as units operate dispersed. Future unmanned systems assist in enabling CASEVAC, as autonomous systems operate in all conditions and stage forward with support units, shortening the transition time from initial injury to casualty collection points or treatment facilities centres.
 
To facilitate movement and manoeuvre, the Army will introduce unmanned combat vehicles designed to function and maneuver across variable and rough terrain under combat conditions. 
 
From 2021-2030, the Army continues research in autonomy, machine learning, AI, power management, and common control to achieve more capable UGS and UAS. 
 
Long-Term (2031-2040)
From 2031-2040, the Army displaces its antiquated autonomous systems and fields new autonomous UGS and UAS developed through commercial research and science and technology investments made in the near- and mid-terms. 
 
Studies and lessons learned from near- and mid-term initiatives inform new organisational designs that fully incorporate autonomous systems. The Army uses these technologies to maintain advantage of situational understanding from home station to initial entry, enabling rapid transition to other operational phases.
 
Autonomous systems, fully integrated into the force, allow Soldiers and leaders to focus on the execution of the mission rather than the manipulation and direct task control of robots. Next generation unmanned combat vehicles and aircraft enable Army forces to create multiple options for commanders, and to rapidly task organise and fight differently based on shifting mission variables.
 
Human-machine teams adapt continuously. The Army adds computerised technology to the Soldier exoskeleton to create a complete “warrior suit” with integrated displays that aggregates a common operating picture, provides intelligence updates, and integrates indirect and direct fire weapons systems.
 
The Army improves sustainment capability with autonomous cargo delivery. On the ground, the focus is on fully automating tactical wheeled vehicles. 
 
In the far-term, RAS allow commanders to retain the initiative during high-tempo, decentralised operations. Rapidly deployable RAS capable of connecting mission command systems will allow for mission command on-the-move and the rapid transition to offensive operations after initial entry. 
 
Common Vision and Collaboration
Success depends on Army leaders sharing a common vision and collaborating to determine how best to integrate RAS into joint operations. As RAS is a relatively new range of capabilities, execution will require Army leaders to be open to new ideas and encourage bottom-up learning from Soldiers and units in experimentation and the Army’s warfighting assessments.
 
RAS also fit well with changing political and economic backdrops that expect Land forces to be able to boost combat mass rapidly while simultaneously working within considerable financial constraints. 
 
By prioritising core information architectures, a scalable backbone can be created which can accommodate rapid expansion, as and when the operational environment requires greater combat mass. 
 
A system of low-cost and distributed autonomous systems can be acquired in large numbers to perform a number of the same tasks and be used flexibly to support a range of tactical functions; they can also be replaced at speed – all whilst working within a realistic capability budget. 
Creating and adopting a coherent RAS capability strategy will enable Land forces to adapt to exploit the opportunities inherent in this technology. An effective RAS strategy must consider the application of RAS technologies and their benefits across multiple Land tactical functions, from close combat to fires, manoeuvre, sustainment and intelligence.
 
The remainder of this report, which will be featured in Nation Shield January 2021 issue, will explore the practical implications of developing and implementing a RAS strategy through an experimentation and acquisition portfolio to enact the tenets of Prototype Warfare.
 
 

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