Military Robots / Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV)
Within a decade technological advances could leave human operators out of the kill chain. The US and other militaries have said they have no plans to remove human supervision over the decision to use lethal force, despite advances in technology.
Human Rights Watch has jointly published a report with the Harvard Law School's International Rights Clinic arguing that within 30 years militaries could be armed with autonomous "killer robots." They said such weapons would be inconsistent with international humanitarian law and would increase the risk to civilians during armed conflict.
In order to prevent a move in that direction, the campaigners are pushing for a global deal that would prevent the use of such weapons, similar to agreements banning the use of landmines and cluster bombs. "One of the things that holds us back from barbarism in contexts of war is this distinction between combatants and civilians," said David Mepham, the United Kingdom director of Human Rights Watch. "And we are worried about a robotic weapon of the future not being able to tell the difference between a child holding out an ice cream and someone holding a weapon."
Teleoperation capabilities, or the ability for an operator to manipulate and control a UGV remotely from a safe location through a tether or radio link, is the most mature control technology available and therefore is an area of emphasis for all Services in developing first generation robotics programs. Teleoperation capabilities are important to the warfighter because they enable standoff operationsand thereby reduce or remove operator risks in highly stressful and dangerous environments, such as minefields and in areas of potential explosive hazards.
However, these capabilities alone do little to reduce operator task loading or to reduce the ratio of operators to platforms. Moreover, it is generally recognized that future second generation high payoff robotic capabilities can only be realized when platforms exhibit semi-autonomous mobilitycapabilities, navigation, and mission accomplishment.
To fully realize similar capabilities to today's manned systems, semi autonomous UGVs must be developed that demonstrate increasingly tactical human like behaviors in route planning and execution, obstacle avoidance, and mission performance. Additionally, new technologies must be investigated to improve mobility of UGV platforms in unstructured environments including complex terrain and urban settings using novel locomotion means and intelligent control systems.
Department of Defense (DOD) Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) save lives and improve national defense capabilities by providing agencies of the Department of Defense (DOD) with the control system architectures, advanced sensor systems, research services, and standards to achieve autonomous mobility for unmanned ground vehicles.
In 1990, in response to Congressional concerns, a number of Department of Defense (DoD) advanced development projects related to ground vehicle robotics were consolidated under the Joint Robotics Program (JRP) directed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The Joint Robotics Program Master Plan (JRPMP) is prepared annually and provided to Congress. The plan provides a single, integrated DoD document that lays out the strategies for acquiring first-generation UGVs and for developing technologies critical to follow- on systems. The JRPMP describes the individual projects and the management framework for their execution. It is an OSD management tool for fulfilling its responsibility to oversee the Joint Robotics Program.
The DOD initiated plans for the deployment of robotic vehicle platforms in the battlefield and plans to standardize the architecture and interfaces. This will encourage the use of commercially available "plug-and-play" components and provide reusability and interoperability on a variety of ground vehicles.
Robotics industry leaders point out that advances in military, transportation, medical, and other non-manufacturing robotics applications, where research and development investments are justified by dramatic potential benefits, will provide the technologies to advance future generations of robots for application in manufacturing. Industrial robots will trail in technology development, adopting advanced technology as it is proven to be reliable and cost effective; autonomous mobile systems for military applications represent the forefront of robotics research.
A variety of potential UGV applications to land operations can increase mission performance, combat effectiveness, and personnel safety. These include detection, neutralization, and breaching of minefields and other obstacles; RSTA; UXO clearance; EOD; physical security; logistics; fire-fighting; urban warfare; weapons employment; and operations in contaminated and other denied areas. The threat of encountering chemical and biological weapons in Third World conflicts continues.
The M60 Panther and the Mini-Flail prototype mine proofing systems continue to be used with great success in Bosnia and Kosovo, and have resulted in additional procurement orders for six more Mini-Flails and the fielding of Abrams Panther, based upon an M1-IP (Initial Production) chassis in 2002. The RONS has been fielded by each of the Services, and is undergoing development of upgrades via a Continuous Improvement Program (CIP). Operation Enduring Freedom has resulted in an additional United States Air Force (USAF) requirement for 30 RONS. The Air Force is using the All-Purpose Remote Transport System (ARTS) overseas for force protection and homeland defense in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Twenty-three units have been fielded with an additional procurement order for 39 more units resulting in full operational capability in late FY05 with the fielding of 62 ARTS.
Requirements for these and other UGV systems have been and are being generated. An example is the emerging Marine Corps requirement for the UGV currently named Gladiator. In response to the maturation of JRP developments and requirements, OSD established an Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) program element (PE 0604709D) in FY97, to continue formal acquisition programs.
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