Army Determined to Integrate Robots Into Force Despite Budget Pressures

By Stew Magnuson

The Army has looked at the Navy's Fire Scout, but has yet to field a vertical take off and landing drone.

The Army must take what it has learned using robotic systems over the past decade of fighting and fully integrate them into the force even though current fiscal restraints will make that challenging, a senior officer said Aug. 13.

"We will leverage what we have learned and put that against where we want to go," said Lt. Gen. James O. Barclay III, deputy chief of staff, Army G-8, at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Washington, D.C.

"As I take a look at the modernization roadmap to the future for the Army ...  we have to provide affordable, modernized force that is both manned and unmanned, and that can team together," he said.
Most of the attention is focused on unmanned aerial vehicles, but integration includes ground robot systems, which he called a "game changer" for troops using them to counter roadside bombs, unexploded ordnance and for reconnaissance and surveillance.

Barclay said the Army continues to look at a number of new technologies and concepts. One of them is micro-unmanned systems for ground and air. He mentioned small drones that can hover and stare like a helicopter. Army aviation officials through the years have mentioned a desire to have a hovering capability, and have looked at larger platforms such as the Navy's Fire Scout, but it has yet to field a vertical take off and landing drone.

A micro-robot would be considerably smaller, although he said the actual size is still being discussed. It might be something that fits into a pocket, or it could be something that fits in a backpack, he added.

The Army continues to look at a squad multipurpose equipment transportation system, better known as a robotic mule, and trucks that can drive themselves in a convoy, Barclay said.

The level of autonomy in robots continues to be a question Army officials are debating, he said.

The key now is "affordability," he said. The Army is partnering with the Marine Corps in order to save funds on ground robot system development, he said. Most of the robots, both ground and air, that were rapidly fielded over the past decade came with an expensive logistics bill, he noted. The Army must learn to do repairs itself, and not rely on contractors, he added.

"As we move to the future, we are going to have to be very conscious about how we go into this and industry is going to have to help us in managing those costs, whether it is done through contracting logistics, or whether we have to go back and look at how we develop the military organic capability," he said.

There are cost and capability thresholds that are in competition with each other when it comes to fielding and integrating new systems. Manned and unmanned teaming will move forward, he said.

"We know it will bring better capabilities to our force. And that is the future of our Army. .. Even in a fiscal environment that we know is going to be challenging," said Barclay, who was interrupted by an anti-drone protester, but managed to continue his speech without pausing.

Topics: Robotics

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