In the coming months, the United States Army is sending its first robotic Humvee to a field training exercise to see if the autonomous combat vehicle can accurately destroy targets, as part of a new experimental program to weaponize robots.
The killer Humvee, which is called the ‘Wingman,’ is part of the Joint Capability Technology Demonstration, or JCTD program, where engineers have developed autonomously piloted weaponized vehicles in hopes it will provide direct and indirect fire support for ground troops trapped in dangerous situations on the battlefield.
According to the Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC program, the goal behind the “Wingman” is to train soldiers and weaponized robotic vehicles to work together on the battlefield to confront America’s enemies. Army engineers say it will be Soldiers, not computers, which decide when the robotic Humvee fires a round.
“You’re not going to have these systems go out there like in ‘The Terminator’ [film],” said Thomas B. Udvare, deputy chief of the program. “For the foreseeable future, you will always have a Soldier in the loop.”
The Army Armaments Research Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC, and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division are also partners in the program, which was launched last year and funded with roughly $20 million after years of positive testing.
Popular Mechanics explains how the Wingman system works,
Right now, two Humvees make up the Wingman experiment: a manned M151 Humvee and the unmanned M1097 Wingman vehicle. Inside the crewed vehicle, three soldiers are assigned to take over key Wingman tasks. One of them handles Wingman’s target detection and laser range-finding, the second drives the vehicle if necessary, and the third pulls the trigger on the Wingman’s gun.
The Army highlights a significant issue with the current Wingman’s armament system. Engineers indicate the program will be upgrading legacy gas-powered M2 .50-caliber machine gun and M240 7.62-millimeter machine gun to an electrically-driven weapon that does not jam like the gas-driven machine gun.
“One of the more significant upgrades will be to the weapon system with the addition of ARDEC’s Advanced Remote Armament System to solve an issue with its previous weapon, the M240B machine gun. While the ARAS system remains the same caliber, it is an electrically-driven gun that does not jam like the gas-driven machine gun.”
“Obviously if you’re a kilometer away from your vehicle, jams are not good,” Udvare said. “What’s nice about their electrically-driven system is that the incidents of jamming are greatly reduced.”
The Army’s solution: the Advanced Remote/Robotic Armament System (ARAS). Popular Mechanics dissects the ARAS system and how it is a fitting upgrade to legacy gas weapons:
ARAS is a complete 7.62-millimeter machine gun that weighs 410 lbs. including the mount and 1,500 rounds of ammunition. ARAS has a heavy, fluted barrel that can survive burning through its entire ammo supply in less than five minutes. The gun is capable of 360-degree fire, 90-degree elevation and -30-degree depression. The system can load a fresh ammo pack in just six seconds. ARAS is paired with the Autonomous Remote Engagement System, which uses vision-based automatic target detection and user-specified target selection.
In May, the killer robotic Humvees are expected join engineers at “Grayling, Michigan, or Fort Benning, Georgia, to become certified in daytime operations on a Scout Gunnery Table VI course,” confirmed the Army.
In May, engineers are slated to take the two-vehicle set, which also includes a command and control Humvee manned by five personnel, to Grayling, Michigan, or Fort Benning, Georgia, to become certified in daytime operations on a Scout Gunnery Table VI course. The course is the same one used to train and qualify ground combat vehicle crews before they advance to larger warfighting exercises.
Military personnel could get their first opportunity to work side by side with the killer robotic Humvee come October, when “engineers hope to conduct an operational user assessment at Fort Benning using Soldiers and Marines,” added the Army.
“We saw the Table VI as an opportunity,” Udvare said. “The course may not test all of our capabilities and may not show all of our flaws, but at least it’s a beginning point to start to assess these platforms and drive technology.”
“By 2035, advances in technology may allow a Soldier to manage multiple assets such as combat vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles and reconnaissance vehicles at the same time in combat, Udvare said.
“Autonomous systems aren’t going to be smart enough to be on their own for decades,” Udvare added.
“How we make split decisions on what we process in our environment … is very complex”
“To add autonomous platforms to the manned formations and have both the man and the machine work side-by-side to accomplish a mission is pretty powerful,” Udvare said.