July 1, 2015

U.S. Military Shifting to Robotic Warfare

The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, in partnership with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Boston Dynamic, tested an autonomous robot late in 2012 [Google purchased Boston Dynamic in December 2013]. The robot, which looks like a head-less robotic horse, was designed to carry heavy equipment for soldiers (see video above). Rapidly rising personnel costs combined with a decline in defense spending is driving the Pentagon to expand its robotic arsenal, replacing humans with autonomous systems. In a report released in January 2014, “20YY: Preparing for War in the Robotic Age,” the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a prominent think tank, says the increased cost of manned combat systems would lead to this shift to robotic warfare. Two Army generals have talked about replacing soldiers with robots: “A warfare regime based on unmanned and autonomous systems has the potential to change our basic core concepts of defense strategy, including deterrence, reassurance, dissuasion and compellence.”

U.S. Army Considers Replacing Thousands of Soldiers With Robots

January 22, 2014

Evan Ackerman - The Army Aviation Symposium, in Arlington, Va., a U.S. Army officer announced that the Army is looking to slim down its personnel numbers and adopt more robots over the coming years. The biggest surprise, though, is the scale of the downsizing the Army might aim for.

At the current rate, the Army is expected to shrink from 540,000 people down to 420,000 by 2019. But at last week's event, Gen. Robert Cone, head of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, offered some surprising details about the slim-down plans. As Defense News put it [see full story below], he "quietly dropped a bomb," saying the Army is studying the possibility of reducing the size of a brigade from 4,000 soldiers to 3,000 in the coming years.

To keep things just as effective while reducing manpower, the Army will bring in more unmanned power, in the form of robots.

The thing to keep in mind about initiatives like this is that the army personnel who are actually flying airplanes or shooting guns or disarming bombs don't make up the majority of the army. There's a concept called tooth-to-tail ratio, which is the ratio of soldiers directly involved in fighting missions (tooth) to those involved in supporting activities (tail). A typical ratio is about 1/3 tooth to 2/3 tail, which means that you're spending a lot of resources on logistics, supplies, and other efforts to support the actual combat operations.

According to Gen. Cole, the Army sees that as an opportunity to become more efficient:
"Maybe it’s one-half to one-half," he said. "The point is you get to keep more tooth, more folks that actually conduct operations on the ground and less supporting structure."

And one way of becoming more efficient is by using support robots—a trend we're seeing not only in the Army but other U.S. armed forces as well. Robots will likely include autonomous vehicles that can transport supplies, autonomous aircraft that can transport supplies, and other autonomous robots that can transport supplies (like the LS3 "robot mule," pictured below). As you may have noticed, there's a theme here, but most of those support robot programs are in the early stages and whether they'll prove effective, only time will tell.

Photo: Boston Dynamics
Boston Dynamics designed the LS3 "robot mules" to help soldiers carry heavy loads.

US Army Studying Replacing Thousands of Grunts with Robots

January 20, 2014

Defense News - The postwar, sequestration-era US Army is working on becoming “a smaller, more lethal, deployable and agile force,” according to Gen. Robert Cone, head of the service’s Training and Doctrine Command.

But just how much smaller might come as a surprise.

During remarks at the Army Aviation Symposium in Arlington, Va., on Jan. 15, Cone quietly dropped a bomb. The Army, he said, is considering the feasibility of shrinking the size of the brigade combat team from about 4,000 soldiers to 3,000 over the coming years, and replacing the lost soldiers with robots and unmanned platforms.
“I’ve got clear guidance to think about what if you could robotically perform some of the tasks in terms of maneuverability, in terms of the future of the force,” he said, adding that he also has “clear guidance to rethink” the size of the nine-man infantry squad.
He mentioned using unmanned ground vehicles that would follow manned platforms, which would require less armor and protection, thereby reducing the weight of a brigade combat team.
Over the past 12 years of war, “in favor of force protection we’ve sacrificed a lot of things,” he said. “I think we’ve also lost a lot in lethality.” 
And the Army wants that maneuverability, deployability and firepower back.

The Army is already on a path to shrink from 540,000 soldiers to about 490,000 by the end of 2015, and will likely slide further to 420,000 by 2019, according to reports.

Cone said his staff is putting together an advisory panel to look at those issues, including fielding a smaller brigade.
“Don’t you think 3,000 people is probably enough probably to get by” with increased technological capabilities, he asked.
It’s hard to see such a radical change to the makeup of the brigage combat team as anything else than a budget move, borne out of the necessity of cutting the personnel costs that eat up almost half of the service’s total budget.

Cone used the Navy as an example of what the Army is trying to do.
“When you see the success, frankly, that the Navy has had in terms of lowering the numbers of people on ships, are there functions in the brigade that we could automate — robots or manned/unmanned teaming — and lower the number of people that are involved given the fact that people are our major cost,” he said.
Some of Cone’s blue-sky thinking was echoed by Lt. Gen. Keith Walker in a Jan. 6 interview with Defense News.

In what Walker called the “deep future” — about the 2030 to 2040 time frame — he said that “we’ll need to fundamentally change the nature of the force, and that would require a breakthrough in science and technology.”

While Walker, the commander of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, which oversees much of the Army’s modernization and doctrinal changes, didn’t talk about replacing soldiers with robots, he did say the Army wants to revamp its “tooth-to-tail” ratio, or the number of soldiers performing support functions versus those who actually pull triggers.
“Right now our force is roughly two-third tooth and one-third tail, so as we decrease the size of the Army you may end up reducing one-third tooth and two-third tail, but what if you could slide that fulcrum? Maybe it’s one-half to one-half. The point is you get to keep more tooth, more folks that actually conduct operations on the ground and less supporting structure.”
The Army is already heading down that path in the structure of its brigade combat teams, announcing last year that it was adding a third maneuver battalion to each brigade, along with engineering and fires capabilities. It is adding more punch to its brigade combat teams while reducing the number of teams it fields from 45 to 33 by the end of fiscal 2017, while transferring some of those soldiers to the existing brigades.

Think Tank: Tighter Defense Budgets Could Drive Shift to Robotic Warfare

January 22, 2014

Defense News - Rapidly rising personnel costs combined with a decline in defense spending could drive the Pentagon to expand its robotic arsenal, replacing humans with autonomous systems, a prominent think tank says.

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) report: “20YY: Preparing for War in the Robotic Age”, written by CEO Robert Work and Shawn Brimley, executive vice president and director of studies, says the increased cost of manned combat systems could lead to this shift.
“One potential answer to this daunting force design challenge is increased use of unmanned systems,” the report, which was released Wednesday, states.
The US has vastly expanded its unmanned aircraft arsenal over the past decade, fielding thousands of unmanned aircraft, primarily for reconnaissance gathering in Afghanistan and Iraq. The vast majority of the systems were designed to operate in areas with little to no threat of being shot down.

But battlefields of the future are expected to include more hostile threats to these types of systems, including surface-to-air missiles and advanced electronic jamming.
“[T]hese largely remotely piloted air and ground vehicles will soon be replaced by increasingly autonomous systems in all physical operating domains (air, sea, undersea, land and space) and across the full range of military operations,” the report states. “The United States will be driven to these systems out of operational necessity and also because the costs of personnel and the development of traditional crewed combat platforms are increasing at an unsustainable pace.”
The US military is preparing to shrink in the coming years, with cuts of more than 100,000 being considered in the Army alone.

Unlike in the past when advanced technologies, such as GPS, satellites, missiles, computer networks and stealth were created “largely from government-directed national security research and development strategies,” technologies that could be used in robotic warfare are largely being developed in the commercial sector, the CNAS report states.
“All of these technologies — largely evolving in the thriving commercial computing and robotics sectors — could be exploited to build increasingly sophisticated and capable unmanned and autonomous military systems,” the report states.
Two Army generals in recent weeks have talked about replacing soldiers with robots.
“A warfare regime based on unmanned and autonomous systems has the potential to change our basic core concepts of defense strategy, including deterrence, reassurance, dissuasion and compellence,” the report states.


12 One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter [the sixth and seventh trumpets].
13 And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God,
14 Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.
15 And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.
16 And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand [200 million]: and I heard the number of them.
17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.
18 By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.
19 For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt.

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