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Army mulls introducing robot platoon into armored brigades by Sam SkArmy mulls introducing robot platoon into armored brigadesove

The platoons would be able to use a variety of drones, and swap out components as needed for missions.

U.S. Army Pfc. Darren Campbell, infantryman assigned to the Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, 316th Cavalry Brigade, operates a ground robot during the human machine integration experiment for Project Convergence – Capstone 4 in Fort Irwin, Calif.,


HUNTSVILLE, Alabama—The Army may introduce a drone and robotics platoon into its armored brigade combat teams, an Army leader announced Tuesday at the AUSA Global Force conference.

A proposal to stand up the new type of platoon has been sent to the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, for eventual inclusion in an update to the service’s force design, said Brig. Gen. Geoffrey Norman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team.

“Those force design updates are working their way through the system now,” he said. The platoons would be known as robotic and autonomous systems, or “RAS,” platoons.

Officials aren’t sure yet how many such platoons an armored brigade combat team should have, but they are experimenting now, Norman said.

If implemented Army-wide, the new platoons would lead to a dramatic increase in the use of robotic systems, and ground robots in particular. The Army has 11 armored brigade combat teams in the active force and five in the national guard, meaning that, at a minimum, the Army could field 16 RAS platoons if every brigade was assigned a platoon.

Fielding RAS platoons to other types of brigade combat teams, such as infantry or Stryker brigades, would expand that number even more.

The military has long experimented with ground robots, including quadruped robots more frequently referred to as robot dogs. However, the technology for ground robots has lagged behind drones, in part because of their difficulty sensing obstacles and communicating with controllers.

Ukraine and Russia have used drones since the start of the war. And both sides in the last year have also begun to use ground robots for missions ranging from casualty evacuation to ferrying in supplies to areas under attack.

The U.S. Army currently has two RAS platoons, one in the 82nd Airborne and one experimental platoon in Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence.

The two RAS platoons recently showed off their skills at Project Convergence, a technology testing event. Drones borne by robotic vehicles surveyed a town before armed ground robots moved in, at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California.

The platoons use a variety of different drones, including Ghost-X drones and the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET), a transport vehicle that can be armed with a Javelin anti-tank weapon. And swapping out components for different missions is a critical component of the program, Norman said.

Controlling the vehicles at speed is a challenge, said Maj. Gen. Glenn Dean, program executive officer for ground combat systems. For example, vehicles that travel faster than 25 miles per hour cannot beam back visuals fast enough for soldiers to react in real time, he said, because of network and spectrum constraints.

“There is not enough spectrum allocated to military operations the way we do it today,” he said, referring to frequency bands on which military and civilian users broadcast communications from radar to WiFi.

Direct control of robots is even more important because systems do not yet have enough ability to operate autonomously, Norman said. “Autonomy isn’t where we need it right now,” he said.

If the Army can get it right, though, it can save lives of the infantry, who often make up the vast majority of casualties in war, said Travis Thompson, deputy director of Army Futures Command’s Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team.

“We’re talking about trading steel for lives,” he said.

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