By Mr. Jerome Aliotta (TARDEC)September 25, 2019
CAMP GRAYLING, Mich.--Delivering supplies such as fuel, ammo and water to warfighters comes with high risk to transport personnel especially during that final stretch to a forward operating area.
The U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center and the U.K. Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) have teamed up to improve autonomous vehicle capabilities throughout the entire supply chain, and in turn remove more Soldiers from exposure to direct enemy fire.
These autonomous resupply capabilities were on display here late last month in a demonstration called Coalition Assured Autonomous Resupply (CAAR).
The coalition partners highlighted three different capabilities including semi-autonomous convoy of large cargo and two types of autonomous last-mile capabilities.
"We look at this as an entire package--convoys move the bulk cargo, then autonomous last-mile ground and air assets take needed supplies to the tip of the spear," Bernard Theisen, GVSC Division Chief.
For the convoy piece of the demo, GVSC showcased its leader follower capability, or platooning operations, with two robotic High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) and two robotic Light Medium Tactical Vehicles (LMTV), together with the U.K.'s two HX-60 utility trucks, equipped with GVSC's Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System (AMAS) robotic kits.
This six-vehicle convoy moves bulk cargo, and then the supplies are broken down into smaller units for autonomous last-mile ground and air delivery to warfighter units that may not be near a transport road.
The last-mile ground resupply, the final chain of the logistics mission, was demonstrated with a U.S. semi-autonomous Multi-Utility Tactical Transport (MUTT) vehicle outfitted with GVSC autonomy sensors and a non-lethal Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station (CROWS), providing some defense. The vehicle is operated using waypoint navigation-guided autonomy and teleoperation from a controlling HMMWV. The U.K. Viking unmanned ground vehicle, developed under Dstl's U.K. "Last Mile" Challenge, demonstrated resupply to the MUTT to show coalition last mile assets working together.
Some of the autonomous last-mile air capability was developed by the Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center. This capability involves unmanned aerial systems which lift and drop cargo including ammunition, food and medical supplies into forward areas where Soldiers need supplies quickly. The U.K. also brought several autonomous last-mile air capabilities from Dstl's "Last Mile" challenge for experimentation in the U.S. as part of the collaboration, and displayed these as part of the CAAR demonstration.
The U.S.-U.K. experiment demonstrated integrating GVSC's AMAS technology onto allied U.K. platforms, then integrating the equipped platforms into a cooperative logistics effort.
"This has been instrumental in learning how to technically integrate the different capabilities, but importantly in helping the British and U.S. Armies understand the potential tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) together on the battlefield," said Peter Stockel, Dstl's Autonomy Innovation Lead.
"Building over the last three years, we have gained significant insight into the reliability and maturity of state-of-the-art autonomy technology," Stockel said. "This major exercise by key Western partners working together demonstrated how to make the battlefield easier, less risky, and more reflective of the operational future."
The experiment is expected to yield information and lessons to guide future application of AMAS technology, while also gathering feedback from U.S. and U.K. Soldiers on the effectiveness of the autonomy capabilities in completing their missions.
"We have been able to look at the challenges of working with how do you take different systems from different nations and different companies and get them all to talk together," said MAJ Andrew Scruggs, GVSC's military lead for Expedient Leader Follower.
"Not only is Soldier feedback used to inform how the technology is applied to the vehicles, it can also be a valuable tool in the development of operating procedures, tactics and techniques as autonomous capabilities continue their integration into the force," Scruggs said.