These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

The U.S. Army Research Lab recently paired a human Soldier with a battlefield robot in the first real-world demonstration of how robots can give American troops the edge in a 21st century fight.

The new Army robot being tested as a sort of battle-buddy can sense small changes in a Soldier’s environment that may indicate a threat. Those subtle changes are then relayed to the Soldier’s eye glasses, using state-of-the-art augmented reality to display the information in a quick and easily digestible way.


“This could let robots inform their Soldier teammates of changes in the environment that might be overlooked by or not perceptible to the Soldier, giving them increased situational awareness and offset from potential adversaries,” said Dr. Christopher Reardon, a researcher at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory.
“This could detect anything from camouflaged enemy soldiers to IEDs.”

The idea behind the Army’s newest robot is pretty simple. Researchers took a small, autonomous ground robot and equipped it with a variety of (LIDAR) laser-ranging sensors. Using those sensors, the robot is able to build a virtual representation of the environment the robot and Soldier occupy. That baseline environment is then constantly compared to the real-time data flowing through the robot’s sensors. When something in the environment changes, the robot identifies the change and transmits the data to the Soldier’s glasses, where the changes are visible in a 3D augmented reality view of the environment.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

The two robots used in the experiments are identically equipped, with the exception of Velodyne VLP-16 LiDAR (left) and Ouster OS1 LiDAR (right). (U.S. Army)

“Incorporating mixed reality into Soldiers’ eye protection is inevitable,” Reardon said. “This research aims to fill gaps by incorporating useful information from robot teammates into the Soldier-worn visual augmentation ecosystem, while simultaneously making the robots better teammates to the Soldier.”

In other words, the nearby robot is constantly scanning the area, and when something changes — whether it’s a nearby enemy combatant adjusting his footing or moving the leaves on a bush — that change is highlighted visibly in the Soldier’s field of view (thanks to the system glasses). This will allow troops to immediately identify hidden threats in their environment.

This robot is a part of the broader Army Artificial Intelligence for Mobility and Maneuver Essential Research Program, which seeks to better equip artificial intelligence systems with contextual awareness of its surroundings — particularly as they pertain to maneuverability. By combining such a sensor system with an AI equipped robot, the robot could choose its own path over difficult terrain. Many current robotic systems, including Boston Dynamic’s ever-popular “Spot,” need to be manually put on different settings when traversing a loose, rocky hill, as opposed to a flat bit of field.

Spot Launch

www.youtube.com

In a further bit of good news, the Army team running the experiment swapped out the sensor loads on the robot to test the efficacy of the system using higher and lower resolution sensors, and found that human operators were still able to discern environmental changes fed through the augmented reality glasses while using even low-resolution sensors. That realization means that these robot battle buddies could be produced with low-cost, low-resolution sensors that are not only more cost-effective, but can reduce the computational power (and in turn, battery requirements) of these systems as they explore ways to leverage them in combat.

It may be some time before we start seeing the U.S. Army deploy Soldiers with AI-enabled robots, but it seems more clear than ever that AI will play an active role in the combat operations of the 21st century. Last week, a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot lost five straight dogfights to an AI pilot developed by Heron Systems, and just recently, Australia unveiled their first “Loyal Wingman” drone that is intended to accompany manned fighter jets into combat once complete.

Russia and China have both boasted development of their own infantry support robots in recent years. Russia’s, known as the Uran-9, is a larger tracked vehicle that, despite its fanfare, went on to grossly underperform while deployed to Syria. China opted instead to develop a flying quad-copter drone intended for use in urban environments for infantry support, thanks to its quick maneuverability and standard rocket payload.

Russian robot tank in action: Uran-9 performs fire drill

www.youtube.com

The Army’s own robot AI initiatives are both benefitting from this Soldier/Robot pairing, as it offers vital information about how robots and humans might interact on the battlefield, while also bolstering efforts to improve the autonomy of these robots so they serve as more of an asset than a potential liability on the battlefield. It seems likely that human beings will always play an essential part of warfare, whether in the skies or on the ground; but AI will be along for the ride, every step of the way.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

Intel

This weapons kit makes dumb bombs smart

Israel’s SPICE (Smart, Precise Impact, Cost-Effective) kit converts unguided bombs into precision-guided ones.


There’s no hiding from a SPICE enabled bomb, it will find you in the dark and chase you on the battlefield. The kit is highly precise in that it combines GPS and EO technology. The GPS side enables the bomb to engage camouflaged or hidden targets in all weather conditions by inputting coordinates. On the other hand, the EO side provides the flexibility of remote control guidance to engage relocatable targets.

With 12 control surfaces on three groups (fore, mid-body and tail), the kit provides a glide range of about 60 kilometers (approx. 37 miles), turning any bomb into a true fire-and-forget weapon. With this much distance between the target, the striking aircraft is safe from short and medium range defense systems.

Watch:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GujLif0VZIg

ArmedForceUpdate, YouTube

Articles

The United States is sending BUFFs and Lightnings to Korea

Recent North Korean missile launches, including four into the Sea of Japan earlier this month, have prompted a major deployment of U.S. forces, including B-52 Stratofortress bombers, also known as BUFFs (for Big Ugly Fat F*ckers), and F-35B Lightning II fighters to the Korean peninsula.


According to a report by The Sun, the deployments come as part of the Foal Eagle exercises, which are held by American and South Korean forces. Other assets being deployed in support of the exercises include the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and its strike group, as well as B-1B Lancer heavy bombers.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

The B-52s can carry a wide variety of ordnance.

Some of the things that they can deliver a lot of to the North Koreas, if Kim Jong Un continues on his present course, include dumb bombs (usually the Mk 82 500-pound bomb or the M117 750-pound bomb, but Mk 84 2,000 pound bombs are an option as well), AGM-86 cruise missiles in both conventional or nuclear versions, AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, CBU-87 cluster bombs, CBU-97 cluster bombs, GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (2,000 pound GPS guided bombs), the AGM-142 HAVE NAP missile, the AGM-158 JASSM, and the AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon.

The F-35s that will participate are Marine Corps F-35B variants that are based in Japan. The F-35Bs are fifth-generation multi-role strike fighters, capable to engaging targets in the air or on the ground. The planes carry AIM-120 AMRAAMs, AIM-9 Sidewinders, JDAMs, JSOWs, and cluster bombs.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army
Two F-35B Lightning II aircraft with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, prepare to land at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Jan. 18, 2017.  (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

The planned exercises will involve 315,000 troops, most of them South Korean. North Korea has routinely claimed that the Foal Eagle exercises are rehearsals for an invasion. Earlier this month, a battery of Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense missiles were deployed to South Korea, a decision criticized by China, which vowed to make South Korea “feel the pain” for allowing the deployment.

Someone needs to tell Kim, “You’re making Chaos angry. You will not like it when Chaos gets angry.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army finds a fix for safety failures in M4 and M4A1 rifles

U.S. Army weapons officials have figured out the cause and ginned up a fix for a dangerous glitch in the selector switch of M4 and M4A1 carbines that could cause the weapon to fire unintentionally.

In June 2018, Military.com reported that about 3,000 Army M4 and M4A1s had failed new safety inspections begun after the service’s Tank-automotive and Armaments Command sent out a safety-of-use message in March 2018 to all branches of the U.S. military, advising units to perform an updated functions check on all variants of M16s and M4s after a soldier experienced an unexplained, unintended discharge.

After more than 50,000 weapons were checked, TACOM officials discovered the cause of the glitch and halted the inspections, TACOM spokesman R. Slade Walters told Military.com.


“After receiving a significant number of reports from the field and an average failure rate of about 6 percent of the weapons inspected, we ended the inspections and have determined that the cause of the problem is a tolerance stack of the internal firing components,” he said in an email. “The problem is fixed by modifying the selector to remove the tolerance issue and the fault. TACOM is working on an Army-wide directive to repair weapons with the issue that will be released when it is approved at the appropriate levels.”

During a follow-up phone interview, Walters said, “Each individual part conforms to the tolerance requirements, but when the multiple parts get stuck together in 6 to 9 percent of the weapons, depending on which models you are looking at … those tolerances create that condition.”

“So in some weapons it’s not a problem and in others it is,” he said, explaining that the lower receiver’s internal parts need “some machining and or grinding to slightly modify the internal components.”

“When they do that, it fixes the problem … and when they have done it and repeated it, they have been able to correct the problem in weapons showing the issue,” he added.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

The receiver of a former M4 carbine shows laser etching to reflect it is now an M4A1 capable of firing on full-auto.

(U.S. Army photo)

Most failures occurred in M4A1s. The M4A1s that had been converted from M4s suffered 2,070 failures out of 23,000 inspected, a 9 percent failure rate. Out of about 16,000 original M4A1s inspected, 960 suffered failures, a 6 percent failure rate.

Less than one percent of the 4,000 M4s checked failed the updated functions check. And less than one percent of the 8,500 M16A2s checked failed the test as well.

About 500 M16A4s were also checked, but no failures were reported.

The Marine Corps also uses the M4 carbine, but the service said in June 2018 that its weapons were passing the new functions check.

The glitch-testing started when a Fort Knox soldier’s M4A1 selector switch became stuck in-between the semi and auto settings. When the soldier pulled the trigger, the weapon failed to fire. The soldier then moved the selector switch and the weapon fired, the TACOM message states.

The M4A1 is now the Army’s primary individual weapon. The service is converting M4 carbines to M4A1s through the M4 Product Improvement program. The M4A1 has been used by special operations forces for about two decades. It features a heavier barrel and a full-automatic setting instead of the three-round burst setting on standard M4s.

The Army said that all new M4A1s being issued are being checked for the selector glitch and corrected as needed, Walters said.

“Anybody who has gotten a new weapon in the last month or two has gotten weapons free of this error,” he said. “It’s not a small number; it’s like several thousand. It has already been implemented in the supply chain.”

It’s unclear if TACOM will have unit armorers fix the weapons that showed the glitch or if TACOM technicians will do the work, Walters said. He added that “this is still pre-decisional.”

TACOM officials also could not explain why the glitch had not shown up in the past.

“It was just a weird fluke,” Walters said. “In the number of rounds that have gone through those models in the number of years those models have been available, it’s like a winning-the-lottery kind of fluke. And the fact that we discovered it is just one of those things.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Agile Lightning increases lethality of the F-35A

Directly aligned with the 2018 National Defense Strategy’s call to be strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable, F-35A Lightning IIs from the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron participated in Exercise Agile Lightning, Aug. 4-7, 2019.

“Exercise Agile Lightning is a demonstration of the agile basing concepts practiced by Air Force fighter squadrons from their home bases,” said Lt. Col. Joshua Arki, 4th EFS commander. “The “Fightin’ Fuujins” of the 4th EFS successfully deployed a small detachment of aircraft and personnel to a forward location, supporting combat operations from that location for a given period of time and then re-deployed back to our primary operating location.”

The 4th EFS and the 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron are both assigned to Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, and temporarily deployed to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Southwest Asia.


Adaptive basing exercises require all levels of the squadron to deploy small teams of airmen and aircraft for a short amount of time to hone their skills. This was the first adaptive basing methodology exercise for the F-35A in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

An F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron receives fuel from a KC-10 Extender assigned to the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron during Exercise Agile Lightning Aug. 6, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury)

“By executing the adaptive basing concepts we have only practiced at home until now, we increased the readiness, survivability and lethality of the F-35A in a combat theater,” Arki said. “The Agile Lightning team worked hard to coordinate with multiple bases and across U.S. Air Force core disciplines, such as logistics, munitions, force support, communications, air mobility, Combined Air Operations Center staff, etc., to ensure mission success.”

While deployed to the 332nd AEW, the 4th EFS was able to complete essential missions vital to the defense of U.S. assets and personnel and continued to project air power.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

Maintainers of the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, disembark from a C-17 Globemaster III for Exercise Agile Lightning at the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Southwest Asia, Aug. 4, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by AFCENT PA)

“We were able to safely bring the jets and people here to continue supporting operations with a hundred percent mission effectiveness,” said Capt. “Cheque,” 4th EFS pilot. “We were also able to gather lessons learned for untethered operations within the AOR, so that we can more quickly and more efficiently accomplish adaptive basing in the future.”

Adaptive basing methodology is still in its beginning stages. However, it’s being practiced throughout the Air Force, demonstrating for adversaries and allies that with untethered operations, aircraft are able to adapt and respond as necessary to the often unpredictable operational environment.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

Airmen from the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing and 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron transport gear in preparation for Exercise Agile Lightning at the 332 AEW, Southwest Asia, Aug. 4, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by AFCENT PA)

“Our adversaries must know that the 4th EFS, the Aircraft Maintenance Unit, and by extension, the entire F-35A enterprise are not only lethal but extremely agile,” Arki said. “We are prepared to defend U.S. and coalition interests from nearly anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice.”

It took airmen from all levels working together to successfully operate a fifth-generation aircraft mission in austere conditions.

“The professionalism, determination and hard work of the detachment of pilots, maintainers and support personnel made a significantly challenging task look easy,” Arki said. “The accomplishments of the Agile Lightning team proved once again that the Fuujins Rock!”

This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army snipers test out new ghillie suits for future warfare

The camouflaged ghillie suits worn by US snipers are vital tools that enhance concealment, offering greater survivability and lethality, but these suits are in desperate need of an upgrade.

The US Army is currently testing new camouflaged ghillie suits to better protect soldiers and make them deadlier to enemies.

Trained snipers from across the service recently gathered at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to conduct visual testing for several prototypes, an important preliminary evaluation, the Army revealed in December 2018.


These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

The current ghillie suit, known as the Flame Resistant Ghillie System, is shown here. A new suit, called the Improved Ghillie System, or IGS, is under development.

(US Army photo)

What are ghillie suits?

A ghillie suit is a type of camouflaged clothing designed to help snipers disappear in any environment, be it desert, woodland, sand, or snow.

“A sniper’s mission dictates that he remains concealed in order to be successful,” Staff Sgt. Ricky Labistre, a sniper with 1st Battalion, 160th Infantry Regiment of the California National Guard explainedrecently. “Ghillie suits provide snipers that edge and flexibility to maintain a concealed position, which is partial to our trade.”

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

A 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Soldier practices camouflage, cover and concealment with the fire-resistant ghillie suit during training at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., in November 2012.

(US Army photo)

What are Army snipers wearing now?

The Flame Resistant Ghillie System (FRGS) suits currently worn by US snipers were first fielded in 2012, appearing at the Army Sniper School, the Marine Corps Scout Sniper School and the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course.

The Army has decided that these suits need a few critical improvements.

The FRGS suits are heavy, uncomfortable, and hot, Debbie Williams, a systems acquisition expert with Program Executive Office Soldier, said in a statement in October 2018.

“The current [accessory] kit is thick and heavy and comes with a lot of pieces that aren’t used,” Maj. WaiWah Ellison, an assistant product manager with PEO Soldier explained, adding that “soldiers are creating ghillie suits with their own materials to match their personal preference.”

But, most importantly, existing US military camouflage is increasingly vulnerable to the improved capabilities of America’s adversaries.

“The battlefield has changed, and our enemies possess the capabilities that allow them to better spot our snipers. It’s time for an update to the current system,” Sgt. Bryce Fox, a sniper team leader with 2nd Battalion, 505th Infantry Regiment, said in a recent statement.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

A southern black racer snake slithers across the rifle barrel held by junior Army National Guard sniper Pfc. William Snyder as he practices woodland stalking in a camouflaged ghillie suit at Eglin Air Force Base, April 7, 2018.

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. William Frye)

What is the Army developing to replace the existing suits?

The Army plans to eventually replace the FRGS suits with Improved Ghillie System (IGS) suits.

The new IGS suits, part of the Army’s increased focus on military modernization, are expected to be made of a lighter, more breathable material that can also offer the stiffness required to effectively camouflage the wearer.

The ghillie suits will still be flame resistant, a necessity after two soldiers from the Army’s 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment burned to death after their camouflaged sniper gear caught fire in Iraq; however, that protection will primarily be provided by the combat uniform worn underneath.

The new suits will also be modular, which means that snipers will be able to take them apart in the field, adding or subtracting pieces, such as sleeves, leggings, veils, capes, and so on, as needed.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

An Army sniper scans the terrain in front of him as part of the Improved Ghillie System visual testing at Eglin Air Force Base in November 2018.

(US Army photo)

How are the new suits being tested?

Snipers from special forces and Ranger regiments, as well as conventional forces, came together at Eglin Air Force base for a few days in early November 2018 for daytime visual testing of IGS prototypes, the Army said in a statement in December 2018.

The testing involved an activity akin to a game of hide-and-seek. Snipers in IGS suits concealed themselves in woodland and desert environments while other snipers attempted to spot them at distances ranging from 10 to 200 meters.

In addition to daytime visual testing, the IGS suits will be put through full-spectrum testing carried out by the Army Night-Vision Laboratory and acoustic testing by the Army Research Laboratory.

The Army Research Laboratory will also test tear resistance and fire retardant capabilities.

Once the initial testing is completed, a limited user evaluation ought to be conducted next spring at the sniper school at Fort Benning in Georgia. The Army is expected to order 3,500 IGS suits for approximately 3,300 snipers with the Army and Special Operations Command.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

They’ve got your back: A sniper’s role is crucial

It was 2006, and Army Staff Sgt. Brett Johnson of the 1st Ranger Battalion peered through night-vision goggles, slowly moving with his squad toward a house in Iraq with a high-value target inside. They knew there were armed militants nearby, but they had no idea they were about to run into one.

“Right as we were about to break the corner of the building, a guy — unbeknownst to us — was literally coming around the corner with an AK-47,” now-Sgt. Maj. Johnson of the 3rd Ranger Battalion recalled 13 years later.


But the insurgent didn’t make it, thanks to a sniper.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5m5spHad2w
Sniper Saves Soldier’s Life (2020) ??

www.youtube.com

“As we broke the corner, he took the most perfect, well-aimed shot and put him down,” Johnson recalled. “Had he not been there, that guy … definitely would have shot one of us.”

“It was pretty incredible for him to take that shot. An error of one foot to the right could have hit one of us,” Johnson continued.

Things happen quickly in a firefight, and even the best technology can’t always keep up with the changing battlefield environment. That’s why the sniper’s reconnaissance skills and ability to relay intelligent information to the commander are crucial.

“We’ve got drones, we’ve got robots, we’ve got all kinds of stuff … but we still need that real-time battlefield information that keeps soldiers safe,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Turner, a sniper course instructor.

Spot the Sniper

www.youtube.com

Becoming a sniper

Becoming a sniper isn’t easy. The qualification course at the Army Sniper School in Fort Benning, Georgia, is seven weeks long, and any military branch or federal agency can send candidates. Instructors say there’s currently about a 60 percent attrition rate.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

An Army Sniper School graduate prepares for a final challenge at Fort Benning, Ga., Feb. 28, 2019.

(Photo by EJ Hersom)

“As you go through it and see the maturity and discipline that it takes in order to take a shot and execute the orders … that takes an emotional toll on you, Turner said. “That’s why you need a more disciplined, intelligent soldier to process those emotions.”

It takes someone who knows how to manage resources and someone with serious patience — there’s a lot of observing and waiting for something to happen.

“They’re some of the most patient people I’ve ever met in my life,” Johnson said.

Take the stalking portion of the course. Using their homemade ghillie suits — camouflage uniforms they’ve personally retrofitted for durability and protection in all sorts of weather conditions — the sniper candidates get to “veg out” by incorporating vegetation into those suits to blend in with their surroundings. They then spend the next couple of hours moving at a snail’s pace through an area of woods. The goal — take a shot at the instructors who are looking for them in the brush, hoping to find them first.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

An Army sniper school graduate walks past spotters after completing a stalk course where snipers try to evade detection from the course instructors at Fort Benning Fort Benning, Ga., Feb. 28, 2019.

(Photo by EJ Hersom)

But school instructors said a lot of candidates fail that part. When we visited, not a single sniper team got to take their shot.

“The hardest part about this school so far has been stalking for me, because I’m a big, gawky guy, so crawling through the woods is tough,” explained Staff Sgt. Johnnie Newton, who passed the course.

Then there are the technical aspects. They’re always refining their skills for every possible circumstance, like wind and distance.

“If I’m operating in a rural environment like Afghanistan, I have longer lines of sight and I’m at higher elevation. What that means is I’m able to extend the capability of my weapons system to a greater distance,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Rance, team leader of the Army sniper course. “In an urban environment, things are a lot quicker, a lot more dynamic, with shorter field of views.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hE3Xqra5E1o
Camo Paint (2019) ??

www.youtube.com

Many of the soldiers we talked with at our visit to the Army Sniper School said they felt safer knowing a sniper was watching their backs. So did those who’ve been saved by them in the past.

“Their critical role on the battlefield to observe and report and then take the most critical shot when needed is a skill that can’t perish,” Johnson said.

This article originally appeared on Department of Defense.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s why Elon Musk is wrong about fighter jets (but right about drones)

Last week, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk ruffled some feathers during a discussion with Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium. The controversial tech mogul, who is no stranger to drawing headlines and occasionally criticism, voiced concerns over America’s apparent love affair with Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, first calling for competition for the advanced fighter, and then going further to say that the era of manned fighter jets was over.


“Locally autonomous drone warfare is where it’s at, where the future will be,” Musk said. “It’s not that I want the future to be this, that’s just what the future will be. … The fighter jet era has passed. Yeah, the fighter jet era has passed. It’s drones.”
These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

Elon Musk, chief engineer of SpaceX, speaks with U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson, the Space and Missile Systems Center commander and program executive officer for space.

(Senior Airman Christian Conrad/U.S. Air Force)

Musk went on to say that even the F-35 wouldn’t stand a chance against a sufficiently advanced drone that coupled computer augmented flying with human control.

When the story broke, we here at Sandboxx pointed out that Musk is right that a technologically advanced drone could potentialy do a lot of things a manned aircraft couldn’t — including manage hypersonic maneuvers that would leave most human pilots unconscious as a result of the G-forces. Scramjet technology has proven effective at propelling unmanned aircraft to hypersonic speeds in the past, and it seems entirely feasible that this tech will find its way into UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles) in the future.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

An X-51A WaveRider hypersonic flight test vehicle is uploaded to an Air Force Flight Test Center B-52 for fit testing at Edwards Air Force Base.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Chad Bellay)

But, we noted, the problem with Musk’s bright idea is that information traveling at the speed of light is actually too slow for the sort of control drone operators would need for such a platform. Even with a somewhat local operator, as Musk pointed toward, the time it would take to relay sensor data from the drone to the operator, followed my the operator processing the information and making a decision, followed by those commands being transmitted back to the drone is simply too slow a process for the split-second decisions that can be essential in a dog fight.

In other words, Musk’s plan is hypothetically right, but likely won’t work in practice for some time to come.

“For a long time, we’re still going to need the manned aircraft on the fighter and bomber side,” Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Holmes, an F-15 Eagle pilot, said Wednesday during the annual McAleese Defense Programs Conference. “We will increasingly be experimenting with other options, [and] we’re going to work together.”
These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

U.S. Air Force Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, watches a mission video during a visit to the 363rd Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Areca T. Bell)

The future of air combat likely will include some combination of manned and unmanned aircraft, which is exactly the future the Air Force’s Skyborg program is aiming for. Using “loyal wingman” armed drones like the Kratos Valkyrie, the Air Force hopes to couple fighters like the F-35 with support drones that can extend sensor range, engage targets, and even sacrifice themselves to protect the manned aircraft. In theory, one F-35 could control a number of drones that bear the majority of the risk, flying ahead of the manned jet.

“We can take risk with some systems to keep others safer,” the Air Force’s service acquisition executive, Dr. Will Roper said. “We can separate the sensor and the shooter. Right now they’re collocated on a single platform with a person in it. In the future, we can separate them out, put sensors ahead of shooters, put our manned systems behind the unmanned. There’s a whole playbook.”
These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jesenia Landaverde)

The combination of the sort of technology in play in Skyborg and rapidly developing hypersonic propulsion could put the power of hypersonic platforms in the hands of fighter pilots, just likely not in the jets they’re flying.

Of course, doing so would greatly increase the mental load on pilots in the fight, particularly if their means of controlling their wingmen drones is too complex. One of the selling points of the F-35 that doesn’t get much play in the press is its ability to fuse data from disparate sensors into an overlapping augmented reality display. Prior to this advancement, pilots had to read and manage multiple displays and gauges, combining the data in their minds to make decisions. In the F-35, friendly and enemy assets are clearly identified with colored indicators, as are air speed, altitude, and other essential information. At night, pilots can even use external cameras with their augmented reality helmets to look through the aircraft at the ground below.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

This is what an F-15 pilot has to keep track of while flying combat missions.

(USAF Photo)

A complex drone-control interface could be a step backward in a pilot’s ability to manage the flow of data, but a DARPA experiment first revealed in 2018 might just be able to solve that problem.

At the time, Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, explained that two years prior, DARPA had successfully utilized what he called a “Brain Computer Interface” to put one volunteer in control of not one, but three simulated aircraft at the same time. The “N3 System,” as they call it, could give pilots the ability to manage their drone wingmen using only their mind.

“As of today, signals from the brain can be used to command and control … not just one aircraft but three simultaneous types of aircraft,” he said at the “Trajectory of Neurotechnology” session at DARPA’s 60thanniversary event
These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

(DARPA)

In later experiments, volunteers even experienced feedback from the aircraft, transmitted into their brains to feel like a tingling sensation in the hands when the aircraft was pushing back against steering in a certain direction. The only problem is, currently, this system only works for volunteers who have had surgically implanted electrodes in their brain. The volunteers were all people with varying levels of paralysis, as this same technology could feasibly be used to control exoskeletons that could help a patient regain the ability to walk.

“The envisioned N3 system would be a tool that the user could wield for the duration of a task or mission, then put aside,” said Al Emondi, head of N3, according to a company spokesperson. “I don’t like comparisons to a joystick or keyboard because they don’t reflect the full potential of N3 technology, but they’re useful for conveying the basic notion of an interface with computers.”

So, while it’s true that a drone isn’t subject to same physical limitations a manned aircraft is, the tradeoff is that a drone would need to have an extremely advanced, fully autonomous flight system in order to execute maneuvers at the fuzzy edge of its capabilities, because communications lag would make such performance impossible in a human-controlled drone at a distance. If the drone weren’t under the control of a nearby pilot, the only choice would be to give the drone itself decision making capabilities, either through an on-board processor, or through an encrypted cloud computing process.

To date, that level of tech simply doesn’t exist, and even if it did, it would pose significant moral and ethical questions about what level of war fighting we’re comfortable relinquishing to a computer. Friendly fire incidents or unintentional civilian casualties are complicated enough without having to defend the actions of a Terminator drone, even if they were justified.

In the future, it seems entirely likely that drones will indeed be more capable than manned fighters, but they still won’t be able to fly without their cockpit-carrying-counterparts. A single F-35 pilot, for instance, may head into battle with a bevy of hyper-capable drone wingmen, but the decision to deploy ordnance, to actually take lives, will remain with the pilot, rather than the drone, just as those decisions are currently made by human drone operators.

Elon Musk is right that drones can do incredible things, but he’s wrong about the need for human hands on the stick. The future doesn’t look like Skynet, but it may look like the terrible 2005 movie, “Stealth.”

Elon Musk may be good at building rockets, electric cars, and even tunnel boring machines, but when it comes to predicting the future of warfare, he’s just as fallible as the rest of us.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

New Air Force F-35 simulator will take training to a new level

When the U.S. Air Force gets its first F-35 Lightning II distributed mission training simulator system at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, this spring, pilots will have the ability to fly virtually as a group, alongside other aircraft, and practice exchanging information across a network, according to Lockheed Martin officials.

“When the F-35 [deploys to] a fight, we know it’s not going by itself,” said Chauncey McIntosh, vice president of F-35 Training and Logistics for Lockheed. McIntosh spoke during the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) conference in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday.

“So by allowing our … warfighters to really bring in all the other assets in a virtual environment and practice that, to ensure they get high-end training in these dense, immersive environments, [it] is going to be a game changer,” he added.


McIntosh said the distributed mission training simulator, or DMT, has been in testing for months, and is in the final stages of integration before the technology is introduced in the spring.

“It’s not just F-35-to-F-35; it’s F-35 to anything that we can bring in a virtual reality environment to the network … regardless of where it’s located,” he said.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

F-35A Lightning II.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)

According to the company, the simulator “creates interoperability across military platforms for continuation training and large force exercise.”

“We expect this capability will be used in Virtual Flag exercises, allowing warfighters to practice complex training scenarios with other platforms virtually for integrated training operations,” Lockheed said in a statement to Military.com.

The Air Force will be the first to use the technology, with the expectation that it will continue to be rolled out “throughout the F-35 enterprise” in the future, Lockheed officials added.

The Defense Department has put an emphasis on group training, with other services attempting their own digital training initiatives.

For example, a priority for the Army has been the synthetic training environment, also known as the STE.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

(U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Engineers collect data to reconstruct cities, mountainsides, bunkers etc. to more accurately represent what soldiers will experience in the STE, thus getting a more authentic representation of what they may face in combat.

The plan is for the STE to develop to a point that squads can operate together in training, facing virtual high-end threats.

However, it’s unclear how soon that level of training will be realized.

During the annual Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in October, Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, the STE cross-functional team director, said elements of the STE were in jeopardy given ongoing negotiations between lawmakers over the next fiscal budget.

“Once we see the final number, we’ll understand the impact” on making STE operational, Gervais said at the time.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Articles

The US Army is building a new crash test dummy

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army
(Photo: U.S. Army)


Over the course of fighting America’s most recent wars, troops faced the threat of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs on a daily basis. More than a decade later, the U.S. Army is building a new crash test dummy to better understand the physical risks these crude but deadly weapons pose to soldiers downrange.

In addition to registering the location of impacts and stress during tests, the new design will be coupled with an extensive database to help predict how likely an individual is to suffer a serious injury. The ground combat branch has dubbed the program the Warrior Injury Assessment Manikin, or WIAMan. As anyone in the military probably already knows, “WIA” is also the acronym for “wounded in action.”

The Army hopes that the new device will help provide more information on just what happens when a bomb goes off underneath a vehicle. “There is a wide range of test conditions and environment parameters” and “no two sets of system responses are the same,” engineers and scientists working on WIAMan explained in a briefing in June.

The individuals from the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command and the Army Research Laboratory sat down with defense contractors to talk about the state of the program. The service wants to start looking for a company to make WIAMan dummies by the end of 2017.

But just building a prototype machine that fits the requirements has been a long and complex process. The Army kicked off WIAMan more than five years ago as the bulk of American forces were starting to leave Iraq.

By that point, IEDs were a well-known threat. In Iraq and Afghanistan, huge bombs routinely ripped through unarmored Humvees and better-protected vehicles. The Pentagon had responded by rushing mine-resistant trucks, bomb detectors and jammers and other gear to troops in the field. Though this equipment saved lives, it did not eliminate serious injuries.

During Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, explosives had accounted for more than three quarters of all military injuries, according to a study Dr. Narayan Yoganandan, Chairman of Biomedical Engineering in the Department of Neurosurgery and Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Marquette University, led and published in Clinical Biomechanics in 2013. Explosions underneath vehicles specifically were likely to cause severe damage to the pelvis, spinal column, legs and feet, Andrew Merkle, a principal professional staff member at Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory, and his colleagues explained in another 2013 piece.

At that time, Army researchers had to rely on modified auto industry manikin, called Hybrid III. The manufacturer, Humanetics, only intended the original dummy for testing head on collisions in commercial cars. On top of that, the design reflected an outdated 1970s body shape.

Instruments in this surrogate person only show damage and strain in broad areas and joints. To help engineers and scientists log potential injuries, the Army’s version only has five so-called “biofidelity response corridors,” or BRCs.

By comparison, WIAMan will have more than 800 BRCs. This means that instead of simply sensing impact on a section of chest or foot as a whole, the manikin would report dangerous forces on particular ribs or the soles or heel specifically.

The prototype dummy was structured around a 50th percentile male soldier. After the Pentagon removed the last restrictions preventing women serving in combat roles in December 2015, the full production run will have to include female body shapes.

Combined with an extensive and growing knowledge-base of injury data, WIAMan should not only be able to highlight possibly dangers but predict them, too. This means that when the Army considers a new tank or truck in the future, researchers might be able to gauge the likelihood of the drivers and occupants suffering specific injuries if they run over a roadside bomb.

And capturing more data from the dummy itself means engineers won’t have to try and cram secondary cameras or sensors inside armored vehicle compartments or truck cabs to gather additional significant information. These spaces are cramped to begin with and these sensitive systems are often damaged in testing.

A “blast test of a surrogate vehicle structure … provided realism,” another one of the June presentations noted. “However, it is costly, not repeatable and occupant response cannot be fully observed.”

Unfortunately, WIAMan alone won’t be able to fill all of the Army’s research gaps by itself. The manikin will not be able to test for a slew of effects beyond an underbody blast.

In its prototype form, the soldier stand-in cannot determine whether troops might be at risk from shrapnel or burns. In Iraq and Afghanistan, IEDs often set off fuel or ammunition in vehicles leading to serious burns.

In 2006, the Marine Corps notably banned leathernecks from wearing synthetic clothing, including popular Under Armour undershirts, because of their low melting points. The Corps found evidence that the garments could fuse to skin with horrific results in a fire.

More importantly, WIAMan will not be able to help gather badly needed information about the potential for traumatic brain injuries, commonly called TBIs. Concussions and other TBIs have been increasingly linked to long-term brain damage and increased risk of serious health conditions.

Since 2000, the Pentagon has diagnosed more than 340,000 active service members with various kinds of TBIs, according to statistics compiled by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. Medical professionals classified 5,000 of these cases as “penetrating,” instances where an actual object pierces the skull and physically hits the brain.

By far, the majority of the instances are “mild,” a synonym for concussions.  However, research shows that people who suffer from multiple instances of these injuries suffer far from mild consequences.

While scientists are still studying the exact relationship between concussions and other health issues, there is significant correlation between the injuries and a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Also seen in boxers and other professional athletes, this is a form of dementia characterized by declining memory, cognition and motor control and itself linked to depression, suicidal behavior, and aggressive outbursts.

American troops have already spent some 15 years in a state or near constant combat operations. Given the rise of new terrorist groups like Islamic State, the Pentagon’s high operational tempo seems unlikely to change in the near future.

In the meantime, soldiers and other service members will likely continue to suffer TBIs and other injuries from IEDs. Though not perfect, WIAMan will give scientists and engineers critical information to help protect our men and women in uniform.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The XQ-58A Valkyrie completes second successful flight

The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a low-cost unmanned air vehicle, successfully completed all test objectives during a 71-minute flight, June 11, 2019, at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona.

The test marked the second successful flight for the aircraft this year. The inaugural 72-minute flight was recorded in March 2019.

The Air Force Research Laboratory developed the low-cost unmanned air vehicle together with Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc. The joint effort falls within AFRL’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology portfolio, which has the goal to break the escalating cost trajectory of tactically relevant aircraft.


“The XQ-58A is the first Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology flight demonstrator with (unmanned aircraft systems) technology to change the way we fly and fight, and build and buy,” said Doug Szczublewski, program manager.

US Air Force Releases Video of New Combat Drone: XQ-58A Valkyrie

www.youtube.com

There are a total of five planned test flights for the XQ-58A, with objectives that include evaluating system functionality, aerodynamic performance, and launch and recovery systems.

The Air Force Research Laboratory is the primary scientific research and development center for the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,000 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development.

This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why the Navy may look to this Army workhorse for special ops

For years, the Navy has been planning to buy Lockheed’s newest version of the Sea Stallion helicopter, the CH-53K King Stallion. In fact, they’ve already pre-ordered 200 of the new helicopter. But Lockheed’s new bird is running into a lot of stumbling blocks, ones that have the Navy careening toward a tried-and-true Army favorite: The Chinook.


These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

The Chinook took its first flight with the U.S. Military in 1961.

The Pentagon has directed the Navy to look at buying maritime versions of the Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter, a version that is protected against the corrosive seaborne environment of aircraft carriers and amphibious warfare ships. Lockheed’s billion King Stallion program has run into a series of technical problems and delays over the past few months. The program is delayed by more than a year and still has “100 outstanding deficiencies that require resolution,” according to Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Since one of the missions for the new King Stallion is moving heavy cargo, not just any replacement will do. That’s where the Chinook comes in.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army

The CH-53K King Stallion.

“There is simply no other helicopter that comes close to the performance of the CH-53K or that can meet Marine Corps requirements,” said Bill Falk, Lockheed’s King Stallion program director. The Marine Corps agrees, saying adapting the CH-47 for maritime operations is no simple fix or easy upgrade. The Marines believe the Chinook can’t provide the heavy lift necessary for future operations.

Boeing, of course, disagrees, saying the helicopter already “conducts ship-based operations for U.S. Special Forces and international operators, and enjoys a strong reputation among all the U.S. services.”

Articles

This is how US ships defeat missiles without firing a shot

When the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) came under attack multiple times in October 2016, the ship was able in at least one instance to use its defenses to shoot down the incoming Noor anti-ship missiles.


But there are times when a ship can’t shoot down the missiles – and thankfully, U.S. Navy vessels have plenty of options.

There are a number of reasons why a U.S. Navy ship may not be able to fire. In some cases, it may be due to restrictive rules of engagement. Other times, the inability to shoot may be due to battle damage. Perhaps there’s concern about what a miss might do.

In those cases, the Navy relies on decoying an inbound missile in one of several ways.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army
The guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) steams through the Atlantic Ocean. Mason is participating in Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX) 08-4 as part of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Katrina Parker /Released)

One option is via electronic countermeasures, or “ECM.” Specifically, the goal is to interfere with the guidance systems on the missiles by confusing or blocking the seekers on radar-guided ones.

The confusion angle is very simple. An ECM system like the AN/SLQ-32 would create false targets. This gets the missile to hopefully chase into empty ocean. Another method is to reduce the seeker’s effective range with jamming. This would allow the ship to get outside the seeker’s ability to acquire a target — again sending the missile off on a merry chase to nowhere.

These robot battle buddies could be a game changer for the Army
An antenna for the AN/SLQ-32 system on board USS Nicholson (DD 982). (US Navy photo)

However, missile makers are wise to the countermeasures and haven’t stood still. The field of electronic counter-countermeasures exists to help make seekers both more powerful and more intelligent, enabling them to beat the ECM. Thankfully, there is another option.

Most U.S. Navy ships also have launchers for chaff. Like the deception portion of ECM, it creates a false target for a missile seeker. Unlike the deception portion of ECM, since it is actually physically metal, it creates a real “target” for the seeker to home in on.

Furthermore, firing a bunch of the rockets makes a bigger “target” – which the incoming missile will hopefully go for.

You can see a Burke-class destroyer launch a chaff rocket in the video below.

These are known as “soft” kills. The enemy missile is negated, but it is misdirected as opposed to being shot down. “Soft” kills do have a potential to go bad, though.

During the Argentinean air attacks on the Royal Navy on May 25, 1982, a Royal Navy frigate, HMS Ambuscade, fired off chaff to decoy incoming Exocet anti-ship missiles. The missiles flew through the chaff cloud and locked on to the Atlantic Conveyor, a merchant vessel carrying supplies for the British forces. Two missiles hit the vessel, which sank three days after being hit.

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