The Case for Robots in the Sbcts (Now)

By Thornton, Robert L., Jr. | Infantry, January/February 2005 | Go to article overview

The Case for Robots in the Sbcts (Now)


Thornton, Robert L., Jr., Infantry


Figure 1 is more in line with the Future Combat System Organizational and Operational (FCS O&O) concepts than current force brigade combat teams (BCTs) or Stryker brigade combat teams (SBCTs). However, it does speak to the potential of unmanned systems (UMS) for our Army. Upfront it's worthy to note two things: first, that robots are not intended to replace Soldiers, but to enable them. second, we are not talking C3PO or R2D2, rather a technological extension to bring down to the lower tactical echelons what we are doing with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) today at mostly brigade-level echelons and higher. This will occur as platforms, and C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) becomes more compatible with constraints and limitations at those lower levels.

The purpose of this article is to discuss how integration of robotic platforms (with an emphasis on capabilities) that are either available for fielding, or could be available within one to four years, could increase SBCT mission accomplishment for an overall benefit to the Army's short and long range future for a reasonable investment in training, manning, and support requirements. This article will cover:

* The reasons for selecting the SBCT as the vehicle for integration;

* A platform and payload overview of what is out there that could match desired capabilities;

* A discussion of MUM (Manned Unmanned Teaming) tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs); and

* Thoughts on what a distribution of robotics might look like in a SBCT infantry battalion and why spiraling as a package is desirable.

The purpose of this article is not to nail down material solutions (although it will use specific platforms and payloads to discuss capabilities), nor does it cover a cost analysis in its discussion as to if the benefit is worth the cost. For the purpose of this article cost will be addressed in terms of: training, manning, support requirements, impacts on deployability, impacts on unit and platform mobility, and C4ISR implications. The cost analysis exceeds the scope of the article and at best would be subjective when trying to consider how much time and money will be saved of technical lessons learned, tactical experience gained, and increased effectiveness of tactical units.

As a captain assigned as an operations officer to the FCS Unit of Action Experimental Element (UAEE) at Fort Knox, Kentucky, one of my additional duties is to be a platform proponent for some of the UMS. This has allowed me the opportunity to work "hands on" with some of the platforms mentioned in this article and talk with some very learned engineers from different agencies and the defense industry. As a former SBCT infantry company commander, I have developed some thoughts on how robotics in the near term could have aided me and the rest of the SBCT echelons. Since I'm an operations guy and hope to stay one, the article is from a "user's" vantage, not a "seller's." If the article's language has me sounding like I need to add a pocket protector to my PCI list, it is because there is just no way around it, this is part of our future.

Why the SBCTs?

Why were SBCTs selected versus any of the reorganized BCTs under the new UA design? The SBCT was selected as the unit type for the purpose of this article for several reasons. It already has a good mobility platform with growth potential in the Stryker. Its force structure fits incorporation of robotic assets. The Stryker is already being used as a host for a potential candidate for a FCS robotic control station. Its doctrine is more mature then the reorganized BCTs. Its leaders and Soldiers possess an agile and adaptive mindset with Soldiers used to incorporating new technologies quickly into TTPs to make them more effective. SBCT digital systems could be expanded and adapted for robotic operations.

Recently in a map exercise, we compared a PCS combined arms battalion with a Stryker infantry battalion task force.

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