You know the age of military robots is here, you just haven’t seen many examples. The U.S. Army is forging ahead with robotic tracked vehicles that can fire Javelin anti-tank missiles and a .50 caliber machine gun remotely. These robots were tested at Fort Hood, Texas in September. The vehicles weigh around 7 tons, and their job is to forge ahead of manned columns and root out enemy tanks and armored personnel carriers. They will be especially handy for reconnaissance and surveillance of cities, and for testing enemy strength without putting soldiers in jeopardy.
Robotic Combat Vehicles In Three Configurations
This program has 12 robotic vehicles and six additional vehicles that provide command and control. Engineers and designers have worked on the project for four years. There are three different Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCVs): RCV-Light, RCV-Medium, and RCV-Heavy with a diverse range of combat missions. The heavier robots will carry larger weapons such as a 30mm cannon for the medium and a 120mm gun for the heavy version. These vehicles are not autonomous and must be controlled by a human, but the remote-controlled vehicles can perform different duties such as scouting out terrain, examining ambush sites, hauling supplies and ammunition and taking out enemy targets.
Firing a Javelin Would Be Useful
The Javelin anti-tank missile has been especially effective during the war In Ukraine, and having a remote vehicle with the weapon system makes the RCV series much more lethal than just deploying a machine gun in battle. The RCV could be the “first in” to combat in a contested environment to measure enemy strength. It can also test whether a location is filled with mines or improvised explosive devices.
Javelin Robots: Diverse Number of Missions
The robot fleet could also set up ambushes to defend certain areas or lay down suppressive fire while dismounted infantry soldiers maneuver toward an objective. The robots could first draw enemy fire and help determine the size of an enemy unit. The intelligence collected could be sent back to higher command to determine whether an objective should be attacked or bypassed. This platform could also help pick up wounded fighters and deliver them to safety all while covering a fighting retreat.
Integrate Them Into Cavalry Units
The plan is to eventually integrate ground robots with unmanned aerial vehicles for a remote force that probes enemy weaknesses and helps to find a path forward for the manned tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and attack helicopters. They could be an important part of a scouting cavalry reconnaissance unit. The RCV-Heavy could embed with a traditional armor platoon of main battle tanks.
Keep Casualties Down to a Minimum
The whole idea of unmanned warfare is to better protect soldiers and reduce casualties. If the Russian army had robotic and unmanned tanks and armored vehicles they could have lost fewer fighters to artillery and drones operated by Ukrainian fighters.
Bigger Robots; Bigger Guns
The Heavy RCV will take longer to develop, and the latest test used an M113 armored personnel carrier as a surrogate platform. But the RCV-Light with the Javelin and .50 caliber was able to display several different types of mobility examples. The next step for the robotic vehicles will be to test them against a notional opposing force in war games similar to the environment at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. They will eventually be integrated into a larger force and evaluated in different combat scenarios.
Useful Development for 21st Century War
Robots will be a key element of future warfare. Units do not pay the price of human lives when they are destroyed, though costs can add up. They can collect recon data and feed it back to command and control and other tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. They can carry wounded soldiers and disperse supplies and ammunition to forward lines. Robots can also examine the battlefield for mines and IEDs. Development of robotic vehicles is certainly an area of technology to watch, and they can play a key role in shaping the battlefield in next-generation combat.
Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.
November 14, 2022 at 6:10 pm
These robots, actually probably best called ground vehicle drones, are likely to largely replace manned vehicles, certainly in the reconnaissance and assault missions.
If deployed by air, they likely could play a role similar to partisans, if effective control and communications can be maintained, and might be able to determine exact locations of supporting activities and units such as logistics, command and headquarters, even locations of civilians and prisoners of war.
If they could act as a laser targeting designator for longer range munitions, they could make supporting fires from artillery, missiles and aircraft much more effective.
Expect to see these widely deployed throughout the world within a few years, probably by many different nations as well as clandestine and even criminal organizations, since drones are already in widespread use.
Certainly surveillance technology is expanding with countries such as China and UK deploying widespread surveillance, so battlefields will likely become the most surveillance dense areas in the world sooner rather than later.
November 14, 2022 at 7:31 pm
The unmanned battlefield is here, and interim weapons that push the troops further from the battlefield will predominate. Dumb guns and small arms with their short ranges and poor accuracy, will be used only in emergencies to break contact, and get back out to long smart weapon range.