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BAE Unveils New UGV, Unmanned Tank for Future Battlefields

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Unmanned Tank of the Future will be at Centre of Autonomous Combat Fleet

(Source: BAE Systems; issued Sept 11, 2017)

Sharing situational awareness and making autonomous decisions will be a major requirement on future battlefields, and could well decide the outcome of future battles more than troops numbers and firepower. (BAE image)

We have revealed a future concept of the tank of the future as an autonomous combat vehicle supported by fleets of smaller autonomous air and ground vehicles, working together in the most demanding combat environments.

Whilst soldiers will remain right at the centre of decision-making, the aim is to remove soldiers from some dangers, increasingly using an unmanned network for hazardous tasks.

As well as sharing visual reconnaissance information, the network of autonomous air and ground vehicles would act as an outer perimeter for the main battle tank. To achieve this, the vehicles would engage threats and incoming attacks with on-board weapon stations – using conventional ballistics and countermeasures in the short-term before moving to laser directed energy weapons as they become available. By incorporating ‘friend or foe’ tracking, this perimeter could also protect nearby dismounted troops, detecting and neutralising active threats and concealed IEDs.

With the need to process and quickly react to the growing amount of battlefield information, manned platforms will incorporate more autonomous systems, reducing the cognitive burden on human decision makers.

John Puddy, Technology Lead at BAE Systems Land (UK) explained: “We’re already taking steps to develop the vehicles and systems needed for this future concept. Our new unmanned ground vehicle, Ironclad, is being developed to work autonomously as part of a battlegroup and we’re also integrating unmanned aerial vehicles in current vehicle platforms.”

Puddy continued: “No-one can be entirely sure what the future will look like, but we do know that it’s a relatively short step from the technology available today to having a fleet of autonomous vehicles sharing situational awareness and – where appropriate – making certain decisions independently. Today’s active protection systems already make decisions which require ultra-fast reactions such as triggering explosive reactive armour. The pace of development means these reactions need to be faster than ever before.

“The U.S. Marine Corps has said it wants to have an autonomous tank in the next five years, so this could start happening very quickly. The challenge for us at this stage is less around the technology development and more around the debate on the appropriate use of autonomy on the battlefield and questions about the cyber resilience of platforms given the evolving nature of this threat.

“From our expertise in protecting our air platforms from electronic warfare to our position today, BAE Systems has proven capability in managing the evolving threat of cyber-attacks across all domains. When it comes to decisions around the use of force, we are clear there will always be a ‘human in the loop’ in any autonomous system. However, we also know that there are other decisions that humans don’t need to make. It’s a similar debate to the driverless cars that are now being tested on our roads – we are having that debate now so that the UK is able to lead the world in autonomy.”


Our New Unmanned Ground Vehicle Takes on Dangerous Jobs

(Source: BAE Systems; issued Sept 12, 2017)

On display at DSEI this year, Ironclad is a new Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) designed to take on some of the most dangerous jobs that soldiers currently face.

Ironclad is small enough to negotiate tight urban environments, but maintains the mobility needed to handle extreme cross-country terrain. It can also be fitted to carry out reconnaissance, combat and casualty evacuation roles.

Craig Fennell, Future Programmes Director at BAE Systems Land (UK) explained: “Ironclad has a unique set of capabilities for a UGV. Using high endurance battery power, it offers near silent running up to a 50km range and will come with a set of mission systems that can be quickly changed in the field. A modular connection system allows two vehicles to be connected together to handle additional loads, such as a specialised stretcher. It is also protected against blast and small arms fire to increase mission survivability.”

“The next step is for Ironclad to act autonomously as part of a battlegroup, interacting with other vehicles and ground troops to follow mission objectives. This is being tested on existing vehicles as the technology – already at a high state of readiness – is developed.”

Each Ironclad is built with a hardware interface that allows the different mission fits to be attached easily. This connection supplies both power and command from the main vehicle chassis, which houses the battery and a two-way remote control unit. The chassis is designed so that hardware needed for autonomous capability can be added at a later stage.