Robot Wars: UGVs on the battlefield

General Dynamics’ Robotic 8×8 Multi-Utility Tactical Transport, an example of the growing trend to mix battlefield robots with land forces

Robots are reaching the land battlefield. The technology involved was already becoming more capable and robust, but the Iraq War significantly boosted robotic development. The large-scale use of improvised explosive devices (IED) by insurgents led to a coincident large-scale deployment of bomb disposal robots by Coalition forces. Infantry units and Special Forces saw the potential of unmanned ground vehicles and started acquiring them for scouting and reconnaissance purposes. At the War’s highpoint there were some 5,000 such robots in use.

Following the Iraq War attention turned to how robots could be used on future battlefields, particularly for the so-called 3D tasks: dull, dirty and dangerous. A shortcoming of robots though is that they require extensive communication links using cables or wireless, which presents two main problems. Firstly, on seeing a robot an adversary knows soldiers must be nearby. Secondly, in future wars against adversaries using sophisticated electronic warfare techniques these communications links may prove fragile, rendering the robots useless.

To address these problems armies are focusing on developing land combat and combat support vehicles that are semi-autonomous. Such systems can be pre-programmed to perform specific actions independently, without external control. However, semi-autonomy is technically challenging and expensive, as it requires vehicle mounted complex sensors. Most land force robots will remain using teleoperation, commonly called remote control, using tethers or wireless networks.

In the background, the commercial information technology field is quickly embracing Artificial intelligence (AI).

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