Dugway Proving Ground isn’t going to be an international tourist destination anytime soon. Not unless you like an intensely hot environment with lots and lots of nothing punctuated here and there with deadly chemical weapons and biological agents.

It is, however, the perfect place for testing all kinds of cool new military gear.

A member of the 1st Special Forces Group interacts with a vehicle from Project Origin Unmanned Systems at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. US Army photo by VIDS Corp
A member of the 1st Special Forces Group interacts with a vehicle from Project Origin Unmanned Systems at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. US Army photo by VIDS Corp

Members of 1st Group recently conducted two weeks of hands-on interactive experimentation with Project Origin Unmanned Systems at Dugway Proving Grounds. Engineers from Army US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Ground Vehicles Systems Center collected information on how the SF soldiers utilized the systems and what technologies and behaviors were desired from the new equipment.

Project Origin vehicles were born out of Ground Vehicle Systems Center’s rapid prototyping to get working prototypes of unmanned systems into field trials as rapidly as possible. The goal is to have them put through their paces and evaluated by some of the best-trained soldiers in the world.

The Green Berets attended rigorous orientation and new equipment familiarization training on standard operating procedures for Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCV) for the fourteen-day experiment. In addition, the SOPs were closely followed to conduct many real-world designed mission-oriented exercises, including live-fire exercises both day and night.

Weapons employed during these live-fire exercises included the M240 and M2 machine guns and the MK19 automatic grenade launcher.

US Army GVSC Project Origin Live Fire Testing, 2021. Approved for public distribution. Video courtesy of YouTube and DEVCOM GVSC

Todd Willert, the manager of Project Origin, tells us: “These live-fire operations were critical to determining the military utility of the Robotic Combat Vehicle unmanned technology.” First, of course, these vehicles must prove their combat worthiness under simulated combat conditions.

Willert went on to say: “The unit was successful with integrating the systems into their formation for both offensive and defensive operations.”

The uncrewed vehicles were tested with various mission payloads: those that assist in long-range reconnaissance operations, concealment, electronic warfare, and resupply operations.

The “why” in all of this should be pretty obvious from looking at the first image in this article. “Robots don’t bleed.” There is no longer a need to risk bloodshed during these more mundane military operations. Warfighters will be freed up to do the highly specialized tasks that only trained human soldiers can do.

The unmanned systems, such as those tested in Project Origin, will be an adjunct to the fighting men, a force multiplier increasing our capabilities in the field as well as increasing our firepower overall.

These types of tests give us a glimpse at the future of warfare. They are part of the Army’s Robotic Technology Kernel. This is part of the Modular Open System Architecture-based library of software that can be used for ground autonomy along with the warfighter machine interface. It’s all part of the Army’s library of modular software used by soldiers to control robotic vehicles. The Army tells us this will enable standard unmanned maneuver capabilities across the ground fleet.

Translation: Unmanned vehicles aren’t just for the Air Force anymore. Get used to seeing multiple autonomous or semi-autonomous armed and unarmed vehicles on the battlefield of tomorrow. As the number of humans in our Army decreases due to failures in meeting our recruiting goals, something has to step in and take their place to maintain our fighting strength.

These vehicles will, of course, have to interface with the warfighter in some way. That’s what the soldiers of 1st SFG are looking at right now.

The future is here, and Project Origin has played a big part in shaping that future.