Magazine article National Defense

Army Rolling Ahead with Manned-Unmanned Convoys

Magazine article National Defense

Army Rolling Ahead with Manned-Unmanned Convoys

Article excerpt

* The Army is moving forward with efforts to develop an autonomous convoy capability that could help troops transport supplies, equipment and other resources more efficiently and safely across the battlefield.

The service's Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC, is overseeing several programs that look to eventually coordinate a manned leader vehicle with several unmanned follower trucks that could streamline convoy operations among the U.S. military and its coalition partners.

The tactical wheeled vehicle leader-follower effort will provide a limited autonomous capability to the palletized load system Al vehicle, according to service documents. The plan is to have one manned "leader" truck direct seven unmanned vehicles. Initial efforts have one designated leader control up to three optionally manned followers as the technology matures.

The Army requested nearly $93 million in research, development, testing and evaluation funds in its fiscal year 2019 budget request for an array of robotics development activities, to include the leader-follower and robotic combat vehicle programs. The service estimates they will cost about $166 million through fiscal year 2023.

The leader-follower initiatives include several ongoing R&D programs that would ultimately lead toward a yearlong demonstration of the technology and a Milestone C decision by fiscal year 2021, said Kevin Mills, associate director for ground robotic vehicles at TARDEC.

Soldiers used the latest technology, known as autonomous ground resupply or AGR, at a demonstration last October at Fort Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center, Michigan. The Army is developing AGR in three phases, and built the core architecture in phase 1 in 2017, Mills said in an interview.

The next two phases--to continue over the next two years--will focus on developing software improvements, design changes and building new behaviors for the unmanned trucks, he added.

About $32.5 million is requested in the 2019 budget for the autonomous ground resupply program. The Army plans to spend about $33 million in 2020 on the initiative and $30 million in 2021, according to service documents.

The Army is working with several industry partners on the project, Mills said. Robotic Research LLC, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, is providing the autonomy kit for the vehicles, while Oshkosh Defense is building the bywire kit that allows the truck to be remotely operated. Lockheed Martin is serving as the integrated system developer, while DCS Corp. is creating the graphic user interface that allows the soldier in the lead vehicle to control the follower trucks. More partners will come on board for the software improvements in phase 2, including Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center, he added.

TARDEC is now taking lessons learned from the October demonstration and refining the technology in anticipation of a 12-month operational technical demonstration slated to start in late fiscal year 2019, Mills said. About 30 leader-follower-enabled trucks will operate alongside another 30 manned trucks serving in a current convoy configuration as a control group.

"The warfighters will be able to use both systems to really understand the pros and cons that they have with the new capability we've provided them," he said.

The Army's Sustainment Center of Excellence will then create a capabilities production document that would inform a follow-on program of record, to be run under the program executive office for combat support and combat service support, Mills said.

Meanwhile, the service is also partnering with a United Kingdom Ministry of Defence agency on a separate autonomous convoy effort.

The coalition assured autonomous resupply, or CAAR project, covers up to $26.5 million in a joint effort between TARDEC, the Army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center and the UK. …

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