The US Army has been developing various robotic and artificial intelligence (AI) projects to further integrate technology into modern warfare. However, many doubt that this innovation could actually help us foster peace.
Next year, the Army will launch a robot combat competition and plans to spend around $750 million in the next five years to develop the Robotic Combat Vehicle-Light (RCV-L) program in partnership with QinetiQ North America. QinetiQ won the federal contract in 2020, and the company plans to introduce its prototype in the competition.
Just this year, the Army also approved the rapid prototyping for the RCV-L, where “design-upgrade test” cycles would cover operational pilots. During these testing, the soldiers will provide feedback on their capabilities.
With the upcoming competition, the Army is looking to award a significant contract to the winner, who will then produce the first prototype units to be delivered by 2028. According to Maj. Cory Wallace, who leads the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team, they will focus on how the programmers will integrate technology into the battlefield. Wallace also noted the importance of taking insights from the “civilian world,” according to Defense News.
“With the RCVs, we are looking at such new systems and new approaches,” Wallace said in an interview with C4ISRNET. “A lot of the testing procedures that are currently employed are not the most efficient.”
Fixing the Gap
When you have autonomous vehicles and weaponry on the battlefield, it is hard to say if both sides are playing a level field. So, to make sure these futuristic vehicles and weapons adhere to the Geneva Convention, Wallace said certification of these vehicles could be the key.
Military combat vehicles usually pass specific benchmarks and maintenance scores to be eligible for use. As for robotic vehicles, they might need to pass more rigorous thresholds. Testing and evaluation metrics should also be higher for autonomous vehicles.
The Army is looking to develop autonomous vehicles in three categories: light, medium, and heavy. These could be used for infantry movement, surveillance, and attack/defense. According to C4ISRNET, the light and medium prototypes have already started testing this summer at Fort Hood, Texas. According to Brig. Gen. Geoffrey Norman, the director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team, says more examinations are needed to verify the range of capabilities of these light and medium vehicles.
Additionally, the Army is also looking to create a diversified plan for developing autonomous vehicles. Unlike the unified approach, Steve Jobs used in developing Apple products, the Army’s acquisition strategy is more similar to Microsoft, where the software and hardware sources are separate. According to Maj. Gen. Glen Dean, Army’s program executive officer for ground combat systems, development of the entire program should be “software-centric” and should be able to support future robotic configurations.
“A core element of the program that we’re executing is about establishing the base-vehicle architecture and the base-software architecture so that you can come in and subsequently add capabilities as modules of software that don’t require you to go back and test every other module of software to verify that it still functions appropriately,” he said.
Once first-phase prototype testing is completed, they can ramp up the medium-sized testing.
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