By Monica K. GuthrieApril 11, 2017
FORT SILL, Okla., -- As technology advances, so does the need for Soldiers to be able to multitask and defeat multiple enemies at once without forfeiting their primary duty. New multi-domain platforms hope to give these Soldiers the equipment to handle the added responsibility without overtaxing them.
These new platforms, called "Hunter" and "Killer" resemble dune buggies -- a vehicle with large wheels designed for various types of terrain. Added to the vehicle is the ability to track aircraft, perform three-dimensional fires targeting and other capabilities. Combined, they are being experimented with during the Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment (MFIX) from April 3 to 13, at Fort Sill.
The Hunter and Killer vehicles were modular by design, meaning developers were able to take pieces from other systems and combine them on a single platform. Scott Patton, science and technology strategist for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) Battlefield Operating Systems Suites (BOSS) Team, who helped design the Hunter and Killer, said the intent is to be able to make parts interchangeable, however this system, like many others experimented on at MFIX, is in its infancy. The Hunter and Killer vehicles were both a concept on a Power Point slide in August and September of 2016, said Patton.
"We came from the last MFIX and a lot of the feedback we got was 'hey we love (counter-UAV mobile integrated capabilities) and we like the dismounted kit, but how do you move it? How do you airdrop it? Can we move it somewhere rapidly for the light fighters?" said Patton. "So we took that challenge, went back to the lab and came up with a design and we got the vehicles to them in October."
By having the equipment on light vehicles (a Hunter/Killer has a maximum load of 1,500 pounds compared to the traditional Stryker vehicle, which weights almost 20 tons), forces that need to move rapidly and have a method in which to move these systems quickly to have the capabilities where they are. Patton says the design of the vehicles are with units such as the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne in mind and that he hopes the design proves to be air mobile on helicopters and also with the ability to be airdropped.
For forward observers, those Soldiers who advance to the enemy's edge (and sometimes beyond), the advancement of technology means new risks, new types of danger and new responsibilities. In addition to their primary duties of gathering intelligence and relaying it back, they now may be called upon to perform precision fires, which means to fire a weapon with precise accuracy on a target. With the increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles, Soldiers may also be asked to intercept UAVs. Designers of the Hunter and Killer are experimenting with the platform's ability to operate with minimum human instruction during MFIX.
"We want to see how we can automate the software to reduce the task saturation of the Soldier," said Patton. "We want to reduce their workload. We want them to just be forward observers. If they have to get into these other domains, they can do it for a minute or two, let the software do the thinking for them and then they go back to their domain."
An aspect of the platform is its ability to fight in multiple domains, meaning that it is designed to be used in land, air, maritime, cyber and space. For land the Hunter platform will be able to call precision fires in an automated fashion, and for air, the platform now has digital air support. They will be able to send communication to an aircraft for support and they can also have a video feed showing them what their own drones may be seeing. When performing for maritime, a forward observer can call for an attack from a ship to a target.
The Killer platform includes the ability to fight in cyber and space battlefield. They will be able to request a cyber call for fire to disrupt communications to a UAV from its operator and they will also have space-based capabilities. For MFIX 2017, Patterson said the users and testers are contractors but plans to have a product in Soldiers hands by next year.
"This is just the first stage of the experiment and it's also the first stage of the counter UAV," said Patton. "We also want to give the Soldier options based on (rules of engagement). What happens in one theater will be different in another theater and the rules of engagement may be different. We want to be able to plug those ROEs in, what they can do, what they can automate, and then put the human in the loop when necessary. That's the objective, we're not there yet."