UK and US test robot vehicle convoys

Harry Lye 20 September 2019 (Last Updated September 20th, 2019 16:00)

The UK’s Defence Science Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Centre have hosted a joint experiment to test autonomous land vehicles.

UK and US test robot vehicle convoys
MIRA mid-sized multirole unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), at Copehill Down training facility on Salisbury Plain. Credits MOD Crown Copyright.

The UK’s Defence Science Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Centre have hosted a joint experiment to test autonomous land vehicles.

The joint experiment, involving autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles, was designed to test the capabilities of the vehicles for logistics and resupply purposes at the Joint Manoeuvre Training Centre in Grayling, Michigan.

It was the result of a three-year collaboration between the US and the UK to accelerate the design and testing of autonomous systems.

Dstl autonomy innovation lead Peter Stockel said: “This has been a journey in understanding, not only how to integrate technically the different capabilities, but importantly to help the British and US Armies understand and develop the potential concepts of use, tactics and procedures together in the representative battlefield environments.

“We have gained hugely valuable insights into the reliability and maturity of ‘state of the art’ technology and how to operate these systems as a UK/US coalition. This is about two major Western partners working together to make future battlefield operations less risky, more effective and efficient.”

Throughout the Afghanistan war, a high number of casualties occurred on logistics missions. The primary purpose of the autonomous vehicles would be to deliver supplies to front line troops without putting personnel and equipment in harm’s way.

In a press release, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) said: “This experiment shows how unmanned systems will potentially allow the distribution of supplies directly to forward combat areas with fewer personnel at risk and to allow them to concentrate on winning the battle.”

British Army Head of Capability Combat Service Support Brigadier Darrell Amison said: “CAAR is a great example of successful US/UK Science and Technology and warfighter collaboration. Over three years of trials and experimentation CAAR has rapidly developed the Army’s thinking around the use of autonomous capability within an information-led, integrated and technology-enabled supply chain.

“Exploitation into the army’s core combat service support modernisation and transformation programmes is now a priority and we’ll seek opportunities for collaborative capability development where it makes sense to do so.”

The tests saw a convoy of autonomous vehicles led by a semi-autonomous lead vehicle. The first vehicle followed human-dictated waypoints with the trailing vehicles navigating using data transmitted from it.

Before the final demonstration, British autonomous vehicles were tested delivering a range of supplies including ammunition, food and medical supplies.

US Army Major Andrew Scruggs said: “The collaboration is vital and has been one of truly mutual support and burden-sharing. Both nations have put their expertise and resources together to learn and create new ideas and approaches for Army logistic operations of the future.

“We have been able to look at the challenges of working with how you take different systems from different nations and different companies and get them all to talk together.”

The British Army has stepped up its investment in autonomous and unmanned systems in recent years under its ‘last-mile challenge’ and General Dynamics recently announced that one of its unmanned ground vehicles had been selected to take part in the British Army’s next Army Warfighting Experiment (AWE).

The British Army says the experiment will “push the boundaries of technology and military capability, testing a range of prototype systems by putting them in the hands of the user while giving invaluable military feedback to suppliers.”