Army revises doctrine for battlefield bots

The Army is fitting roles for robots into its force structure and operational plans.

Although the Army has been using robots in combat for over a decade, it must begin to develop a sound set of operational rules and doctrine for their future use, a top Defense Department official said Aug. 16 at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s conference in Washington D.C. 

The Army is still working out its training and doctrine for using robots in combat. Key to this are the service’s modernization plans that call for a networked and highly automated force, said Maj. Gen. Walter Davis, deputy director of the Capabilities Integration Center at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.

For the United States and its allies. most future combat environments will be of a complex, urban nature, Davis said. The enemies that the nation’s forces have faced have proven to be adaptable, decentralized and highly aware of the battelfield situation. To counter these threats, the Army must take a flexible approach that can work through a variety of operational scenarios from humanitarian operations to combined arms engagements, he said.

To meet its future goals, the service has developed some guiding principles for using unmanned systems on the battlefield. They are:

  • Unmanned operations integration is critical to Army capstone concepts which will lay the foundations for future missions.
  • Robotics exist to enable and replace humans.
  • Humans should not have to accommodate robotic systems.
  • Early user and technology developer collaboration.
  • A “system of systems” methodology to measure effectiveness.
  • Cost/benefit analysis to maximize force structure.

Getting the most benefit from these principles will require the Army to develop practices and procedures to use robotics and automated systems in a variety of missions, from calling in artillery fire, removing wounded from the battlefield, reconnaissance and surveillance, mission sustainment and logistics and battlefield security. “We need to get a good comprehensive view of robotics capabilities,” Davis said.

Army officials also must be aware of the moral implications of using unmanned and possibly autonomous systems on the battlefield. Doctrine will have to be developed that will allow commanders to comfortably deploy robots, and to deal with any issues when they fail. “Autonomous systems must be able to adapt to changes to work with and among humans,” he said.

To meet the challenges from this new operational and fiscal environment, Army policy must be flexible. Research and development of new technologies can be advanced in incremental steps which will provide the service with the best means of modernization for its money, Davis said.

As the Army moves forward with modernization efforts such as the Network Integration Experiments at Fort Bliss, Texas, he said that the service should also consider the possibility of establishing a robotics test bed experiment.

At the same time, as the service plans out its force structure for the next decade, it must determine the best mix of manned and unmanned capabilities, Davis said. In particular, in modeling possible future brigade combat team and battalion capabilities, planners should consider the benefits of unmanned systems to augment and support those missions.

“From the Army’s perspective, it’s all about that soldier—and protecting them,” he said.

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