This April-May, more than 4,000 Soldiers, Marines and allied troops will participate in Joint Warfighting Assessment 2019 (JWA 19), at Joint Base Lewis McChord and Yakima Training Center, Washington, for a joint and multinational training event that will evaluate emerging Robotic and Autonomous Systems (RAS) concepts and capabilities, integrate new technologies and promote interoperability through simulated and live experimentation with realistic and rigorous scenarios hosted in a Multi-Domain Operations framework.
Central to this effort is the Robotics Complex Breach Concept (RCBC), led by Fort Benning's Cross-Domain Maneuver Battle Lab and sponsored by the Future Concepts and Center, Army Futures Command.
During the live portion of the exercise, from April 23 to May 10 at Yakima, MBL assessors, lead technology system integrators with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center and other Department of Defense entities will evaluate how improved robotic and autonomous systems benefit Soldiers and increase survivability, force protection, and lethality during a combined arms breach operation.
Current reduction capabilities in a combined arms breach require Soldiers to be at the point of breach, which is an extremely high risk, vulnerable area.
Last April, as part of JWA 18 held in Grafenwoehr, Germany, MBL leveraged RAS technologies for a first-ever remote-controlled breaching exercise, which successfully removed Soldiers from the point of breach. The experiment also showed the benefits of employing RAS in intelligence, suppression, and obscuration capabilities.
"There was a real need to develop a breach concept that removes the risk to Soldiers," said Andy Kahmann, MBL Senior Project Officer for the RCBC. "Using robotic and autonomous systems for breach operations makes clearing enemy obstacles much safer."
Expanding on JWA 18, this year's RCBC experiment will include adding robotics on the Assault Breacher Vehicle for the first time. A number of specialized manned and unmanned air and ground systems will be integrated, as well, into this year's RCBC experiment, to include Unmanned Aerial Systems, vehicles and weapons, planned to enhance maneuver, recon and security operations and increase Soldier protection and enable Mission Command.
The M58 Wolf, a variant of the U.S. M113 armored personnel carrier, is remotely operated from a control vehicle to provide concealment with a white smokescreen.
The U.K. Terrier, currently fielded in the British army, is an armored combat engineer vehicle that combines a tank and a bulldozer, and operated by remote control to clear mines and dig.
The U.S. Assault Breacher Vehicle is an armored mine and explosives clearing vehicle that combines an M1 Abrams-chassis with a mine plough and line charges.
A Stryker, as a control vehicle, with a remotely controlled squad multipurpose equipment transport and smoke generator.
Deep Purple is a carbon fiber quad copter drone, that is part of the Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defense suite of systems.
The PUMA systems perform reconnaissance, capture photos, and uses a detection software that can identify changes made to terrain, over a period of time, to help identify hazards.
Single Multi-Mission Attack Munition (SMAM) is a conceptual loitering missile designed for Non Line of Sight use at the battalion level to destroy armor threats.
Use of the U.K. Terrier in JWA 18 helped to produce several lessons learned about the challenges of remotely-controlled vehicles, said Kahmann.
"We were having to operate with line of sight connectivity between the control vehicle and robotic vehicle," Kahmann said. "What that does is it keeps the Soldier in direct fire threat, because we are only able to get 500-800 meters of distance between the control vehicle and the robotic vehicle."
For JWA19, system engineers are introducing a tethered UAS to the control vehicle with a mounted radio able to rebroadcast the control frequency, which will allow the control vehicle to remain in a cover-concealed location, yet maintain positive communications with the control vehicle.
JWA 19 will leverage successes of JWA 18, as well, and focus on improving maneuver and situational awareness with unmanned combat vehicles and advance payloads.
"The integration of autonomous systems will validate requirements identified in the RAS Initial Capabilities Document, which outlines the Army's plans for unmanned ground and aerial RAS," said Col. Tom Nelson, director of Robotics Requirements Division at Fort Benning, "and directly support the Army's understanding of the opportunities and challenges of human-machine teaming, interoperability, autonomy, and network security."
Once JWA 19 is complete, Fort Benning's Maneuver Battle Lab compiles the observations from the subject matter experts into a final report to assess the RAS ICD and collect takeaways from the new system.
The report, which includes feedback from Soldiers and Marines, will provide the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team some insight on development of the Robotic Combat Vehicle, and ultimately increase Soldier survivability, force protection, and lethality on the future battlefield.