The US Army is planning to induct Armed Robotic Vehicle-Assault (Light) (ARV-A-L), currently in development, for operation by 2014, which will support the dismounted infantry’s efforts to locate and destroy enemy platforms and positions. This robotic platform will support both anti-tank and anti-personnel weapons systems that to be remotely operated by network linked soldiers.
This sort of future planning emphasize that during the last few years Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) systems have evolved into highly capable machines, used by the armed forces worldwide or the security forces, mostly for surveillance and data acquisition purposes, and now are gearing up for the direct combat role .
UGVs and UGCVs are a highly promising technology of the future.
The significant and successful use of unmanned ground vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan war has given a sneak peek into the possible scenario of a future battlefield, where robots or unmanned machines will fight the war while saving the expensive human lives.
Unmanned Ground vehicles (UGVs) have the potential to provide a revolutionary leap ahead in military capabilities. If UGVs are developed to their full potential, their use will reduce casualties and vastly increase the combat effectiveness. But to achieve this potential, UGVs must be capable of responsible autonomous operations. Therefore human operators may always be needed to make critical decisions.
Since the beginning of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, over 6,000 unmanned military vehicles have been used to help the troops. UGVs have benefited the militaries with the ability to send them ahead of platoons to examine terrain they are about to enter. The technology programmed into these vehicles then allows the soldier to spot enemies that might be waiting to ambush the platoon. This alone can help save lives.
Although these unmanned ground vehicles can help spot out enemies on patrol or waiting to ambush the soldiers, they also give the military forces the ability to spot one of the main causes of death of the US soldiers in Afghanistan- which is explosives. These small, remote-control vehicles have allowed troops to peek around corners and investigate suspected bombs.
This had reduced the possibility of a solider being killed by having to manually defuse any explosives. If a bomb is found and cannot successfully defuse the bomb, then the ground vehicle can also be used to detonate the explosive.
UGVs, in varying sizes to meet mission capability requirement, are today saving lives and providing critical supporting capabilities in current military operations worldwide. They work more effectively in environmental extremes such as heat, cold, or nuclear, chemical and biological contamination in the warfare. Thus, UGV can be used to augment the soldiers’ capability in the field of military operations.
Recently it was highlighted that robots may replace one-fourth of US combat soldiers by 2030. The major motivation behind such idea in United States for replacing humans with robots is that humans are expensive. Training, feeding, and supplying them while at war is pricey, and after the soldiers leave the service, there’s a lifetime of medical care to cover.
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.
A remote-operated UGV is a vehicle that is controlled by remote control station via a communication link. The UGV must be able to send and receive telemetry and sensor data and video/audio to remote control station, as well as interacting with the environment. Also, UGV is capable of autonomous driving based upon waypoints and basic obstacle avoidance, and also capable of driving controlled by human interface from far away.
To facilitate the operation of the UGVs from a distance through wireless means, a drive-by-wire system enables the control of the conventional UGV engine by electronic means. The tele-operation system enables the base vehicle operator to navigate the UGV with the help of opto-electronic sensors. Information about the obstacles and other features around the UGV is gathered by these sensors and this information is displayed at the base vehicle on ergonomically designed display systems.
Though the progress in military robotics has, perhaps due to complexities involved been rather slow, but with the growing threat of weapons of mass destruction, the nuclear, biological and chemical contamination of battlefield are and growing menace of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and mines the demand for UGVs has increased.
India has also realized the potential of robotics on the battlefield and therefore the Combat Vehicles Research & Development Establishment (CVRDE), a DRDO lab based at Avadi near Chennai, is warming up to take two of its UGVs for summer trials in the next two months.
The UGVs-Muntra-N designed for nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) reconnaissance and Muntra-M designed for mine detection missions - are currently undergoing lab level trials at Avadi ahead of the summer trials. Muntra S has already concluded the desert trials.
Muntra stands for Mission Unmanned Tracked. Sanctioned with a seed money of Rs 60 crore in 2007, the project consists of four vehicles, with three in the unmanned role and the fourth one in a manned mode (Muntra-B), doing the base control duties.
Muntra-B will be common for all missions depending on the role. During the field trials, Muntra-S operated at very high temperatures in deserts. While tele-operating Muntra-S from a distance of 5 km it tracked a tank further at a distance of 12 km. The radar has an instrumented range of 18 km.
All vehicles are based on the battle proven BMP II class of tracked armored vehicles. In addition to being ATVs, they have an inherent amphibious capability, thus making a UGV a highly potent and versatile unmanned platform.
Further DRDO’s state-of-the-art Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) ‘Daksh’, capable of being remotely controlled over a range of 500m line-of-sight (LOS) or up to three walls within buildings, is an invaluable asset in the hands of Bomb Disposal Units of the Army, Police and other Paramilitary Forces. ‘Daksh’ has been successfully developed in a very short time of 30 months from its inception to trials. The ROV is capable of being deployed both in urban as well as in cross-country terrain.
In an urban environment, ‘Daksh’ can be deployed within buildings and climb stairs for handling and extracting hazardous materials or IEDs. It has an onboard shotgun for blasting though door locks as well as breaking the windshield or side glass panes of likely car bombs. It is further capable of towing a suspected vehicle away from a crowded area. Daksh ROV can also be deployed in cross-country terrain, wherein additional broad tyres are fitted for traversing slushy and marshy stretches.
‘Daksh’ can also be effectively used by industrial security forces for detection of leaked gases using a detachable Portable Gas Chromatograph (PGC) to survey chemically contaminated locations.
Modern UGVs use wheels, tracks, multiple legs and even crawling techniques for mobility. They are versatile and can move cross country, roll forward and backward, rotate, flip, climb stairs, squeeze through twisting tunnels and narrow alleys, and even swim to perform their designated military tasks. UGVs can be developed in all sizes and made to perform numerous military tasks. Aside from scale and function, a major characteristic of any UGV is its level of autonomy, ranging from tele operated, through various stages of semi autonomy, to fully autonomous.
As they do not succumb to fatigue, fear, pain or distraction, these UGVs can perform their task for an unlimited period of time. Any offensive action by the enemy or contamination will only result in a replacement expense and not loss of a human life.
Militaries around the world are developing modern UGVS with enhanced features while ensuring maximum protection for its troops. Many US, European and Israeli companies have developed advanced UGVs and are continuously investing in R&D to produce even a better version with more versatility.
Lockheed Martin’s SMSS
The largest unmanned vehicle ever deployed with U.S. ground forces, the Lockheed Martin Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) leverages robotic technologies for unmanned transport and logistical support for light, early entry and special operations forces. It solves capability gaps by lightening the Soldier’s load and serving as a power management resource. SMSS received a US Army contract in 2011 to deploy vehicles to Afghanistan, the first experiment of its kind with deployed troops, to see how autonomous robots can benefit the Warfighter. It previously served in Army experiments as a self-sustaining, portable power solution, including soldier battery recharge and logistics support for infantry.
Last year Lockheed demonstrated the capability to control the SMSS robotic vehicle beyond line of sight. During demonstration the SMSS was controlled via satellite link 200 miles away. The robotic vehicle conducted several battlefield surveillance operations while being controlled via satellite. The demonstration proved that the combination of autonomy, vehicle mobility, surveillance sensors and satellite communications can provide a means of battlefield situational awareness while keeping soldiers out of harm’s way. During the demonstration, SMSS was equipped with a Gyrocam 9M Tactical Surveillance Sensor and a General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies “SATCOM-On-the-Move” system.
Lockheed Martin conducted several demonstrations of the SMSS for the US Army during 2012, outfitting the vehicle with different mission equipment packages to conduct logistics, counter-IED, mobility, dismounted-soldier support, and reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition. Four SMSS vehicles were successfully tested by soldiers in Afghanistan in 2012 as transport and logistics vehicles to lighten the load for soldiers in combat operations.
Northrop Grumman’s heritage in unmanned ground systems began with the challenges encountered by UK MoD Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) personnel in addressing the terrorist threat in the early 1970s. As the leading global supplier of generic UGVs for hazardous operations, the company combines unsurpassed field experience with the latest military-grade technology to offer the most versatile range of UGV equipments.
Last year Northrop launched CUTLASS, its latest generation UGV, expanding its range of industry-leading capabilities in unmanned systems for the remote handling and surveillance of hazardous threats.
CUTLASS includes significant advances in technology and performance and a range of features that provides state-of-the-art capabilities for national security and resilience applications.
CUTLASS offers the latest technology in a modular design, enabling the user to deal safely with the full range of hazardous threats from a distance, including the detection and disposal of explosive ordnance. Its highly versatile design means that it is capable of accommodating a wide range of payloads, sensors and tools. It carries all of the tools and sensors it needs to perform the full range of operations required for explosive ordnance disposal and other applications, avoiding the need to deploy two standard UGVs. CUTLASS saves up to 50 percent on the through-life costs when compared to owning and operating two standard UGVs.
The manipulator arm is equipped with a three-fingered, state-of-the-art gripper and has nine degrees of freedom for greater movement and agility inside limited spaces. With a specialized sensing system it provides a high level of control and dexterity to minimize damage to property and preserve forensic evidence.
Last year Northrop also demonstrated its carry-all modular equipment landrover (CaMEL) UGV. CaMEL is a mid-sized unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) designed to accommodate multiple missions, including lightening the load; performing casualty evacuations; clearing antipersonnel mine routes; and hauling ammunition for dismounted mortar platoons.
The ‘armed wingman’ CaMEL in its Mobile Armed Dismount Support System configuration can carry a variety of crew-served weapons, including the MK-19 40mm automatic grenade launcher, M2 heavy machine gun, M240/249 machine gun and 25 and 30mm weapon systems. It also can carry a load of 1,000 lbs. of equipment at a maximum speed of 5 miles per hour across rough terrain.
CaMEL’s hybrid design-diesel engine combined with a battery-not only provides more than 20 hours of continuous operations on 3.5 gallons of fuel but also produces power that can be exported and used for charging batteries or powering other systems.
One of IAI’s representative robots is the veteran Guardium, operational around the Gaza strip and defined by the IDF as the first operational autonomous system for defense, security, HLS and border protection.
Operationally deployed by the Israeli Army, Guardium autonomous observation and target intercept system was developed by G-NIUS Autonomous Unmanned Ground Vehicles joint venture company established by Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems. The Guardium system employs autonomous unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) which can be operated from a command center, carry out routine patrols and quickly respond to evolving emergencies. They can suppress suspicious elements close to the perimeter, and hold them back until manned security forces arrive, or use various forceful means to eliminate the threat, if applicable. The vehicle is equipped with an automated tactical positioning system and can operate autonomously on and off road, at speeds up to 80 km/h. The vehicle can carry a payload of up to 300 kg, including light armor shield to protect vital systems. The UGV can carry a wide variety of sensors, including video and thermal cameras, with auto-target acquisition and capture, sensitive microphone, powerful loudspeakers and two way radio. The vehicle can also be equipped with lethal or less than lethal weapons which can be directed and operated from the Main Control Center (MCC).
Based on the technological strength and capabilities of G-NIUS’ Guardium UGV system, as well as building on the Tactical Amphibious Ground Support (TAGS) vehicle excellent maneuverability in harsh terrain environments, the AvantGuard UGCV significantly expands the applications envelope to encompass Counter IED (CIED) and ground maneuvering combat missions. Employed with a set of modular payloads like ground penetrating radar, counter IED jammer, mini-pop cooled thermal surveillance camera, counter human & vehicle detection radar and more, and based on its inherent endurance, AvantGuard can be effectively deployed in variety of combat missions.
Recently IAI’s Ramta’s Division is developing an unmanned ground penetrating radar sensor designed to detect deep buried and surface-laid mines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). The system designated Mines and IED Detection System (MIDS) has completed the last phase of engineering testing and have begun building a technology demonstrator. The demonstrator is slated to be ready for field testing by the end of 2014.
Even before the US Armed Forces announced a goal to have one-third of operational ground combat vehicles unmanned by 2015, Oshkosh Defense was deep into the development of robotic technology. The result is the Oshkosh Defense TerraMax UGV, a vehicle kit system that advances perception, localization and motion planning to protect warfighters from IED threats and increase performance in autonomous missions.
Designed for use on any tactical wheeled vehicle and backed by thousands of miles of field testing, the Oshkosh TerraMax UGV is capable of supervised autonomous navigation in either a lead or follow role. Its multi-sensor system combines with novel registration techniques to provide accurate positioning estimates without needing to rely on continuous tracking through a lead vehicle or GPS signals.
When equipped with the Oshkosh TerraMax UGV, each vehicle is capable of navigation to the objective independently. This not only facilitates tight convoy formation, but also enables the composition of the convoy to change as demanded by traffic conditions, road blockages or other obstructive situations.
Since it’s designed, engineered and built by Oshkosh, the Oshkosh TerraMax UGV is fully integrated onto the vehicle to minimize system vulnerability while enabling advanced driver assist systems such as electronic stability control, collision mitigation braking and adaptive cruise control. This provides for more streamlined installation, safer operation and more advanced autonomous control.
The iRobot SUGV (Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle) is a tactical mobile robot that gathers situational awareness in dangerous conditions for warfighters and public safety professionals.
The iRobot 310 SUGV is a man-portable robot with dexterous manipulator and wearable controller for dismounted mobile operations. A smaller and lighter version of the combat-proven iRobot PackBot, 310 SUGV enters areas that are inaccessible or too dangerous for people, providing state-of-the-art technology for infantry troops, combat engineers, mobile EOD technicians and other personnel. 310 SUGV gathers situational awareness in dangerous conditions while keeping warfighters and public safety professionals out of harm’s way.
Adaptable and expandable, 310 SUGV accommodates a wide range of payloads and sensors, including a dexterous manipulator. 310 SUGV features a wearable controller, heads-up display and game-style hand controller, making the robot ideal for dismounted mobile operations.
iRobot is a key partner in the U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) program.
Since its introduction more than a decade ago, QinetiQ North America’s TALON family of robots has earned a reputation for durability, flexibility and performance in keeping personnel, assets and civilians out of harm’s way. In military, first responder and SWAT applications, these lightweight tracked vehicles are widely used to locate and disarm improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and EODs; reconnaissance; communications; Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive (CBRNE)/HAZMAT; security; heavy lift; defense; and rescue.
QinetiQ is successfully servicing the military IED/EOD market with its TALON UGV. The system was first deployed by the US DoD in Bosnia in 2000. The current version of the system is a medium-sized UGV, which is highly ruggedized, able to climb stairs and travel across a range of terrain. The latest program development from QinetiQ is the addition of a new heavy-lift shoulder manipulator arm for the TALON, and a removable remote control kit for its Bobcat loaders that work alongside TALON and the smaller Dragon Runner UGV at vehicle checkpoints.
The remote-controlled Bobcat is capable of quickly dismantling vehicles that contain explosive devices and removing heavy IEDs, while TALON and Dragon Runner carry out more specific counter-IED and EOD work.
Singapore Army has released the Rush Demonstrator UGV, which is designed to conduct combat operations. The Rush delivers a relatively quick ground speed.
The UGV is a strong system that can be deployed to perform multiple activities such as casualty evacuation, combat assistance, forward tactical inspection. The UGV is also designed to carry out defence operations against explosives, biological, chemical, and radiological weapons.
The UGV is capable of carrying two modular mission payloads. It also comes equipped with the manipulator arm and gripper and an electro-optical/infrared camera. With a weight of around 40kgs, the Rush Demonstrator offers a maximum load capacity of 30kgs. It can be used to drag a load of 30kgs by the rear and pull a trolley of 60kgs.
The system travels at a maximum ground speed of 7km/hr. The UGV’s platform was built using electric motors of high torque to gain a power-to-weight ratio of high capacity. The Rush Demonstrator can be used to perform real-time tactical inspection and explosive ordnance removal.
Bird strike robot
The Korean Atomic Energy Group and LIG Nex1 (an aerospace and defense subsidiary of LG Corp) have jointly developed what they are calling the world’s first bird strike defense robot. Birds are a major headache around military air bases and civilian airports all over the world, as they can cause significant damage when they collide with aircraft or get sucked into engines. The robot is a six-wheeled unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) that uses a combination of directional acoustics and laser patterns to scare birds away. The UGV is semi-autonomous, meaning a human operator manages its operations from a control station. The robot is able to avoid obstacles and return to specific locations autonomously, so that even if the station becomes inoperable it won’t cause accidents.
Now the system is being rolled out in multiple airfields, with the intent of proving its capabilities to international buyers. The technology developed for this UGV may also be transferred to unmanned landmine detection systems, combat vehicles, and supply vehicles.
The different type of developments in UGV is an indication that the use of UGVs in future will grow multifold and it will expand into various defence and civil applications.
The most significant application of UGV technology to date has been their widespread use for IED detection and disarmament. This is the area in which UGVs initially found traction within the military – the first developer to see widespread deployment of its products with a military operator was iRobot with its PackBot.
But t he UGV market is expanding rapidly as developers and operators increasingly recognize the inherent capabilities of unmanned technology. The biggest driver of growth in the military sector over the coming decade will be the move towards the production of larger UGVs, with greater autonomous capabilities.
The concept of an affordable common mobility platform coupled with specialized mission equipment packages is the right answer for future UGVs to reduce development, production and sustainment costs, while providing maximum flexibility and protection.