The development of unmanned systems was devoted to a recent article in the American edition of Breaking Defense. 18 October, she published the material “Armed Robots: US Lags Rhetoric, Russia” by Sydney J. Friedberg, Jr. The author of this article attended a recent conference of the United States Army Association (AUSA) and carefully studied the state of the art in the field of unmanned vehicles. In addition, he made conclusions about the development of the submitted projects, as well as appreciated well-known foreign developments.
At the beginning of his article S.J. Friedberg recalls the numerous statements of the American military leadership in the context of unmanned systems. Warlords argue that artificial intelligence will change the face of war in the future. However, at the moment the development of ground-based unmanned systems looks much more modest than expected. Most of such equipment is not large and does not carry weapons. Moreover, the American complexes are inferior not only to hypothetical systems from the plans of the Pentagon, but also to real “tank-like” samples of the Russian development.
In 2017, the US Army spent 521 unmanned and robotic systems with a million dollars. 79% of such spending was used in the field of aircraft. The purchase of ground-based complexes took only 20,6 million - almost all of this money was intended for the purchase of engineering equipment. 91,4 million dollars were also allocated to the development work, and 40% of this amount also relates to developments in the field of combating explosive devices.
In preparing his article, the author of Breaking Defense talked with a specialist of the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) Samuel Bendett. During the exhibition, held at the AUSA-2017 conference, the analyst saw many unmanned systems of various kinds, but most of these developments are small, not equipped weapons and comes with a remote control. According to S. Bendetta, these are sappers, trucks, reconnaissance vehicles and other auxiliary samples, but not full-fledged combat robots.
The exhibition was attended by some samples of military purposes, however, as S. Bendett noted, they belong to light classes - their combat weight does not exceed several hundred pounds. The only exception to this (and even only partial) was a sample of Ukrainian development.
This specificity of the exhibition has disappointed the analyst. He would like to see new US developments in the category of heavy combat unmanned systems. For example, at last year’s Army Association conference, the remote-controlled mini-tank Armed Robotic Combat Vehicle from BAE Systems was presented. However, this project does not have unambiguous prospects. Armored ARCV was developed during the creation of the program Future Combat Systems and was originally called the Black Knight. The refusal of the FCS project had some negative consequences. In particular, S. Bendet could not name another ambitious project of a relatively large car, similar to the ARCV.
Meanwhile, Russian engineers are working in a number of areas and are creating new unmanned systems, including robotic systems the size of a tank. S. Bendett recalled that many of these machines are well armed. In addition, Russia constantly demonstrates such equipment at its exhibitions.
Paul Sharr, director of technology and security at Center for a New American Security, an analytical organization, also addresses Russian developments. According to him, Russia is building a whole "zoo" from a variety of unmanned systems, the largest of which are the dimensions of armored personnel carriers. As an example of the latter, P. Sharr mentioned the Uran-9 system with a combat weight of 11 tons and the 16-ton Whirlwind machine built on the basis of the BMP-3. The analyst also recalled that in the future, Russian specialists may create an unmanned version of the main tank T-14 “Armata” - and this despite the fact that its basic version is only preparing for mass production.
S.J. Friedberg believes that most Russian projects in the field of unmanned systems are, rather, an advertising gimmick, but not practically applicable developments. For example, during the exhibitions a humanoid robot FEDOR (Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research) is demonstrated, capable of simultaneously firing two pistols - one in each manipulator-arm. More realistic Russian-made vehicles are conventional armored vehicles equipped with remote control systems.
The author notes that these are not fully autonomous robots. Such complexes require human control using a separate communication channel - the same as in the case of the Predator UAV. Such models of equipment also need a crew, although in this case people should not be inside the equipment. A remotely controlled car can be attacked or paralyzed. If the enemy can crack the control system, he will be able to take control of the equipment. All this, according to the author of Breaking Defense, reduces the value of such a technique in the context of the fight against a highly developed opponent.
However, work is underway in the field of artificial intelligence. Russian experts have created an autonomous gun turret, suitable for installation on a variety of vehicle vehicles. However, according to S. Bendett, this product has serious problems with the identification of objects; offline, it hardly distinguishes its from others. With all this, Russian politicians often mention developments in the field of autonomous combat systems.
The representative of CNA believes that the Russian programs for the development of unmanned systems are now aimed primarily at creating autonomous complexes capable of performing certain actions when communication is lost with the operator’s console. However, the automatic execution of the attack is not yet the goal of such projects.
Difference of concepts
S.J. Friedberg asks an important question: who is leading in the field of land unmanned systems. P. Sharr found it difficult to answer whether Russia is ahead of the United States in the field of autonomously operating systems. However, he noted that the two countries are developing different concepts of such technology.
The author recalls that in war concepts are as important as technology. So, in the UK and France in the 1940, there were more tanks than in Germany, and besides, their equipment was distinguished by better armor and weapons. However, German troops used their equipment better and more intelligently. Germany had a long and difficult work on the formation of the so-called tactics. blitzkrieg She created new equipment, and also equipped her with communication tools to fully coordinate the maneuvers.
According to Paul Sharr, there is currently a situation in the field of unmanned vehicles that is similar to the position of tanks in the 1919 year. Then it was obvious that the tanks will have a great impact on the war of the future, but no one could say exactly how this can be achieved. Exactly the same now is the case with unmanned technology and robotic complexes.
P. Sharr believes that the US military is really thinking about the need for autonomous armed unmanned systems, but, for some reason, is not in a hurry with the development of this area. Even in the distant future it is planned to create only remotely controlled systems. At the same time, Russian generals openly talk about the desire to get fully autonomous machines.
An American expert found an explanation for such caution by the United States. He believes that one of the prerequisites for it is ethics. At a time when “the Russian army leveled Grozny with the ground and helped Assad’s“ barrel bombardment ”in Syria,” a whole generation of American soldiers grew up with strict observance of the rules of war. Robots simply can not take into account all the tactical and ethical nuances, as people do. In addition, artificial intelligence, having no program for a specific situation, can respond to it with stunning stupidity.
However, ethical issues may not be the only cause of the current state of affairs. P. Sharr fears that another problem is the banal lack of imagination in command. Are the generals so interested in new technologies, and do they really want to introduce them in the army? The analyst does not yet see signs of a necessary attitude to this area.
Caravan of mules and robotic trucks
In such a situation, the author asks a question: what does the US Army do? During the AUSA-2017, visitors were attracted by the S-MET (Squad Maneuver Equipment Transport) program. The required unmanned vehicle should be a mechanical "mule" capable of accompanying the infantry, carrying its weapons, ammunition, provisions and other heavy loads. To date, several prototypes of technology have been presented with this capability: an autonomous lightweight buggy, a small device with a fairly large cargo hold, etc.
The S-MET program was launched in April last year, and was joined by eight software companies. This fall, eight prototypes were tested in the mountains and in swamps, after which four of the most successful samples were selected. Next year they will go to army units for operational tests.
Brigadier General David Komar, who occupies one of the leading positions in the Army Capabilities Integration Center, told Breaking Defense about the essence of the new program. According to him, S-MET products should not lead to revolutionary changes in the work of the ground forces, but they should be made easier. At the same time, the army wants the capabilities of the technology to match the capabilities of the people and not impose restrictions on the actions of the units.
D. Komar also noted that a number of necessary technologies are already being used in the civilian sector, but not all the necessary ideas are present there. The fact is that commercial unmanned systems do not need to reduce noise, capable of giving out their location, and in addition, they usually do not move over very rough terrain.
The author recalls that the operation of unmanned vehicles has so far led to ambiguous conclusions. S. Bendett notes that small-sized equipment requires special attention from the soldiers, even in the absence of impact from the enemy. The overturned machine will not be able to return to its normal position on its own. People can pass on different surfaces and landscapes, including extremely difficult for small-sized equipment. If the robot gets stuck or gets damaged, then people will have to throw an expensive product, or start a “rescue operation”, which takes time and effort. Similar problems are present in all new projects, and their developers must find some solution.
General D. Komar spoke about the largest US ground vehicle equipped with automated systems. This year, the LFAGR (Leader-Follower Automated Ground Resupply) multipurpose vehicle is being tested. Such a project provides for the refinement of cars HEMTT-PLS by installing special equipment. LFAGR trucks are supposed to be convoys headed by a car and crew. Automation will follow the "leader" and move after him. Already in October, a demonstration of this complex should take place.
According to the general, a system with a leader and slave machines is valuable even by itself. It allows you to perform existing tasks with minimal risk for personnel. In addition, the LFAGR project lays the foundation for various new developments. It should lead to the emergence of new technologies that will further help in the creation of autonomous technology with the ability to move through complex landscapes, including as part of tactical formations.
S.J. Friedberg asked the brigadier General D. Komar of the creation of armed unmanned ground complexes. The representative of the military, thinking for a while, said that the Pentagon is considering this possibility. However, his answer was left without any specifics and without information about promising projects.
At the end of his article “Armed Robots: US Lags Rhetoric, Russia” Sydney J. Friedberg Jr. quotes General D. Komar, who commented on the main points of current and future programs. Whatever changes are made to the projects, whatever opportunities are put into the equipment and, ultimately, into the defense doctrine - the Ministry of Defense does not intend to remove the operator from the control systems of armed equipment. The final decision on the use of weapons will remain with the person.
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