US Army Tests Ground Robotics in Multinational Exercise

The Project Origin robotic combat vehicle is shown during training for U.S. soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment at the Hohenfels Training Area, Germany. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Christian Carrillo)

The U.S. Army’s most recent Soldier Operational Experiment (SOE) confirmed the value position of Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) in a coalition environment. This is a position that provides their human counterpart with the following benefits: enhanced lethality, improved options, and a degraded threat.

Project Origin, a technology demonstrator that supports the Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV) development effort and other RAS programs, enabled the OPFOR at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center to expose the rotational unit to capabilities that our adversaries are developing while at the same time evaluating emerging technology in a relevant tactical environment. This SOE provided the Army with soldier feedback and technical data required to inform the RCV’s requirements and develop use cases that will enable future formations to dominate the dynamic, lethal, and contested battlefields of 2030 and beyond.

During the SOE, U.S. Army DEVCOM Ground Vehicle Systems Center and its industry partners from General Dynamics Land Systems integrated the latest robotic technology into both OPFOR and the rotational unit’s formations. While the rotational unit consisted of a diverse number of NATO countries partnering with U.S. forces primarily from the 3d Infantry Division, the OPFOR consisted of soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment.

The OPFOR employed Project Origin in various missions ranging from breaching obstacles to raiding Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) during Operation Combined Resolve XVII. Similar to last year’s SOE at the Joint Readiness Training Center, the Project Origin team concluded that the grueling operational tempo and dynamic environments associated with combat training centers enable them to learn more in two weeks than they do during an entire year of smaller-scale experiments. In addition to integrating Project Origin into the rotation, the Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC) also fielded the Army’s Autonomous Transport Vehicle (ATV) to evaluate the Army’s autonomous logistic resupply capability in this challenging multinational environment.

Regarding Project Origin, the OPFOR employed the platforms to support human maneuver by leveraging payloads such as the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station Javelin, smoke generator, tethered unmanned aerial system, and electronic warfare components. Meanwhile, GVSC enabled the rotational unit with uncrewed logistic resupply missions through the use of the ATV robotic Palletized Load System vehicles. These robotic resupply vehicles reduced the number of soldiers required to transport the equipment and materiel necessary to support both U.S. forces and soldiers from 12 additional NATO countries during the rotation.

Both Project Origin and ATV exposed 5,600 Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division and NATO allies to the capabilities and benefits of RAS. In Project Origin’s case, the rotational unit learned that U.S. adversaries’ RAS can achieve lethal effects and degrade their combat power before they make contact with actual humans. Further, the rotational unit learned that RAS enables a formation to employ enabling combat effects such as obscuration and aerial surveillance instantaneously.

Project Origin’s modular mission payloads provided the OPFOR with these capabilities at the point of need without having to wait for their higher headquarters to process and prioritize similar requests with available assets. The OPFOR’s FARP raid was one such example. During this mission, the OPFOR raided a FARP to prevent the rotational unit’s AH-64 helicopters from interdicting an on-going OPFOR air assault. Project Origin’s operators identified an opportunity to employ the obscuration payload and “smoked out” the entire FARP. As a result, the AH-64s could not take off until the smoke cleared and thus prevented them from interdicting the OPFOR air assault.

An added benefit of a combat training center rotation like this one is that the Project Origin team identifies scenarios or instances during which Origin achieved significant success, then “red teams” those moments to develop “Counter RAS” concepts.

During Combined Resolve XVII, GVSC allowed soldiers to evaluate the effectiveness of the Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) based autonomy, Robotics Technology Kernel (RTK), and a common user interface known as Warfighter Machine Interface (WMI). GVSC collected feedback from the OPFOR employing the Origin platforms as well as the rotational unit who conducted logistic resupply missions using ATVs.

Building a MOSA-based, common approach to ground autonomy software lets the Army collaborate with a wide range of industry-leading partners while controlling current and future costs,” said Bernard Theisen, GVSC’s Division Chief for Ground Vehicle Robotics. “RTK, the Army’s library of modular software package, can be tailored to meet the needs of autonomous ground platforms. Autonomy—at various levels—offers great opportunity for different platforms to perform different tasks that improve Soldier safety and reduce cognitive burdens.”