K-MAX, Ground Cargo Robot Collaborate on Fully Autonomous Mission
The Army paired an unmanned air cargo aircraft with a ground robot to perform an autonomous resupply mission at Fort Benning, Ga., on Aug. 18.
The test began with a K-MAX unmanned helicopter which carried a squad mission support system in a sling and delivered it to a mock battleground. The robot then performed resupply and surveillance missions.
The U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center and Lockheed Martin sponsored the demonstration.
“The synergistic use of unmanned air and ground vehicles will give warfighters a larger operational reach, and allow execution of missions that are currently performed at great risk to the warfighter,” said TARDEC Director Paul Rogers in a statement.
After performing the resupply mission, the robot was then tasked with finding a surveillance point wherein it raised its gyrocam sensor and scanned the area for enemy forces.
This demonstration was aimed at illustrating the impact of integrating unmanned aerial vehicles with unmanned ground vehicles on eliminating operator risk. In an actual combat scenario, the ground robot would be able to perform resupply tasks that would reduce the number of truck convoys, as well as allow for a remote operator to observe dangers in combat zones and assess situations accordingly, said the statement.
A remote operations center equipped with satellite links as well as local line-of-sight communications systems controlled and monitored the vehicles’ activities throughout the demonstration. In future exercises, Lockheed Martin and TARDEC officials said the communications systems will become more integrated.
K-MAX business development lead John McMillan said in a phone interview that the operation went flawlessly, and that it worked to demonstrate the feasibility of such a concept as well as its implications for the future of unmanned systems in general.
The K-MAX, manufactured by Kaman Aerospace Corp., became the first unmanned aircraft system to execute deliveries in combat for the Marine Corps in 2011, while the squad mission support system is the largest unmanned vehicle ever deployed with U.S. ground forces. Both have been used as troop support in Afghanistan.
This was one of many tests for the K-MAX and squad mission support system carried out separately, but only the second time they performed a demonstration in tandem. Lockheed Martin and TARDEC have plans for a third demonstration in 2015.
“Fully autonomous capabilities as we’ve just demonstrated will allow service members to focus on important missions and remain out of harm’s way,” said Scott Greene, vice president of ground vehicles for Lockheed Martin missiles and fire control. “This successful demonstration with both unmanned air and ground vehicles shows us that these missions are not only possible, but can be available much sooner than you would expect.”
Though the mission was conducted as part of TARDEC’s “extending the reach of the warfighter through robotics” capability assessment for the Army, the application of such a concept has benefits for other branches of the military, and for commercial use as well, said the statement.
Natural disaster relief, firefighting and oil and gasoline delivery were some of the applicable areas for this technological integration outside of the military, said McMillan, but the possibilities extend well beyond even those.
“This demonstration signifies another use for robots and this brings us closer to the pinnacle of how we use unmanned systems,” said Dan Spoor, vice president of aviation and unmanned systems at
Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training business.