The British Army have just finished the biggest military robot exercise in British history, exercise Autonomous Warrior.

Pictured above is the QinetiQ Titan Strike, a large tracked UGV with a laser rangefinder system. It is fitted with a machine gun but the weapon is under 100% human control and remotely operated.

Over 50 robotic, autonomous and supporting systems have made it through the selection process to be exercised on Autonomous Warrior. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Unmanned Ground Vehicles will be trialled to measure how they can support surveillance, resupply, command and mobility

British troops were testing out over 70 examples of futuristic technology including enhanced surveillance drones and unmanned vehicles on the fields of Salisbury Plain.

The Ministry of Defence say that the experiment lasted four weeks and tested a range of prototype unmanned aerial and autonomous ground vehicles which aim to reduce the danger to troops during combat. The exercise finished with a battlegroup experiment, where the best ideas and products were tested in the toughest of simulated operational environments.

One of the key areas testes is the autonomous last mile resupply. The ‘last mile’, which represents the extremely dangerous final approach to the combat zone, is crucial to ensuring soldiers have the food, fuel and ammunition to keep them alive.

Image of a mid-sized multirole unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), at Copehill Down training facility on Salisbury Plain.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“Our troops now have the chance to test out a huge range of robotic kit in what will be the biggest exercise of its kind in our history. We’re always working with the brightest minds in Britain and across the world to see how they can support our military of the future, but now the frontrunners have the chance to prove what they can really do on a battlefield. This equipment could revolutionise our Armed Forces, keeping them safe and giving them the edge in an increasingly unstable world.”

The exercise aimed to test technologies in surveillance, long-range and precision targeting, enhanced mobility and the re-supply of forces, urban warfare and enhanced situational awareness. The Royal Tank Regiment Battle Group from 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade provided the bulk of exercising troops and took responsibility of command and control.

According to a news release:

“Overall there were over 200 multi-national, cross-service personnel. The US Army, Royal Marines, RAF and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) joined industry partners and academia in working alongside them, experimenting with over 70 products and systems.

Autonomous Warrior will play an integral role within the £800 million Defence Innovation Fund which supports ground-breaking ideas aimed at transforming both defence and British industry.”

Image of a Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle fitted with the Marionette Universal Control System. A ‘bolt-on’ external control which can be fitted to a diverse range of vehicles and equipment. It integrates with or works alongside existing systems and allows add-on systems to improve, or re-purpose vehicles in the field.

The land-based exercise follows on from the ‘Unmanned Warrior’ which the Royal Navy demonstrated autonomous systems diving, swimming and flying together to engage in surveillance, intelligence-gathering and mine countermeasures.

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Steve Taylor
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Steve Taylor

We don’t want a repeat of 1957 Defence White Paper. These machines will help. But they are decades away from replacing troops. Also it is a bit simplistic to think that unmanned means cheaper and smaller.

It would be interesting to know how much work companies like Boston Dynamics are doing on human analogues for CQB/FIBUA like scenarios. In the fights in the future mega-cities these will be life savers.

maurice10
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maurice10

This is only the beginning. In 20-30 years 40% of all battlefield activity could probably be autonomous? Why risk lives driving convoys in danger zones when an automated vehicle can achieve the same ends? The rapid move to autonomous systems, also addresses manning, by reducing frontline personnel to a level that is more cost effective. High-quality troops will be more focused on actual fighting scenarios and less on logistics. One other issue. As with meat suppliers being targeted by hardline vegans, it might just be the start of habitual freedoms being far more scrutinised by society? There could come a… Read more »

Steve
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Steve

There are times like that but they come and go like the seasons. During the latter half of Vietnam US soldiers were seen as murderers and baby killers. People initially had a dim view of service personnel during the invasion of Iraq. But then there are also times like WW2 and the Falklands War, where people also tend to rally round the flag more. I don’t think that it’ll ever get to the point where being in the forces is seen as just short of barbaric, not by the wider public at least. I also think that HMG should start… Read more »

Mike
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Mike

This is a difficult subject and I agree in part. But the Military needs to join the modern world. Offer a career that allows anyone with enough talent to be able to thrive and achieve no matter what their background. The people trapped by poverty can join an organisation where they are trapped by class and educational background. If they work hard for decades they may be able to become a late entry Captain. Would this happen to the public school educated son of a brigadier? I think not. University is expensive and of course it does favour the wealthy.… Read more »

Steve
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Steve

Although companies like Sainsbury’s et al have restructured so it’s harder for those same people to progress. They’ve made redundant a swathe of managers and team leaders. I used to work in a large Sainsbury’s store that had 15 managers order and about 30+ team leaders. Now its 1 store manager, 4 managers under her and 4 team leaders. Apt of companies are doing similar so career paths are becoming harder to progress from checkout girls and trolley boys. In the military though, those same boys and girls from the poorer backgrounds, even if they can’t make it as officers,… Read more »

Mike
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Mike

I apologise as this is going a little off the topic of the article but I again agree with much of what you are saying. There can be huge benefits to anyone who joins the military. But that would/should be the case no matter the organisational structure. I will reference this Nicholas Drummond article (https://uklandpower.com/2018/11/07/do-we-need-to-simplify-the-rank-structures-of-uk-armed-forces/) I agree with much of what he says but I would go further and say the Officer/Enlisted divide is no longer necessary. I understand the evolution of the system and how in the past it was the most suitable system for the social structures and… Read more »

BV Buster
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BV Buster

100% agree with you on that one, some of the best officers I have worked with came from the ranks. We should change the system so you can only go to Sandhurst if you have been at least a junior NCO, it will cost no more as the officer will already be trade trained so won’t have to go back through Phase 2 ect and you will no longer get the new officer who don’t know his arse from his elbow.

maurice10
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maurice10

Yes, you are right Steve, however, in this age of fast access to the media and the hundreds of Apps, people with strong anti-war beliefs could make inroads to recruiting? This may be more prevalent when the UK is fighting an unpopular conflict as witnessed in Iraq. I agree that huge changes in how careers are designed in the services, will have a maked effect on the quality of our troops. And that is where the autonomous systems could make a big difference. We may no longer need the manual labour elements, as those roles steadily disappear with increased autonomy,… Read more »

BV Buster
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BV Buster

The army is in the middle of a manning crisis, 100% of our core equipment is obsolete, we have been reduced in size to a level that makes us irrelevant on the world stage and we are in the middle of a restructuring that will reduce our combat power still further. So why in Satan’s left testicle are we putting effort into vanity projects like this? Have we turned into Russia? Is our perceived capability more important then actual capability? We should be concentrating on getting the basics right first, high intensity warfare, divisional level manoeuvre, actual combat power! Not… Read more »

Herodotus
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You haven’t mentioned Brexit mate!

David Steeper
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BV Buster I’ll try and cheer you up. Imagine this was any continental european defence website ? See things ain’t so bad.

BV Buster
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BV Buster

Well when you put it like that all is rosy.

Steve
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Steve

100% of core equipment is obsolete? We have a lot of gear that is dated and maybe not the best available but obsolete is clealry not the case. 1. Body armour has just been replaced 2. Light and personal weapons, maybe not best in class but still effective. 3. Helicopters are all still top end if short on frames 4. Challenger is very lethal, just maybe no longer world beater, but still tier 1 5. Foxhounds are meant to be decent and same with most of the Iraq/afgan brought gear. 6. Starstreak is still effrctive for pop up defence. 7.… Read more »

BV Buster
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BV Buster

Steve: What I mean about core equipment is the primary fighting systems of the Army, superficially it all looks ok but if you dig a little deeper you will see its not great. 1. Challenger 2 is completely out of date, its gun is ineffective against modern MBTs and would struggle against newer T-72s, its sighting systems are shocking and its mobility is lacklustre at best. This is what the LEP project should address but probably won’t. 2. Warrior is nearing obsolescence, its automotive systems are ok but its turret is way past it, no stabilisation (a must) and the… Read more »

Steve
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Steve

Totally agree on the lack of platforms, no question there, but we have geared for coalition warfare and so numbers come less of a problem. Whether that is the right or wrong decision is another story. The question based on coalition warfare, is whether we have enough gear to support the troops we do deploy, which i assume would never be more than 20k. However I still think most of the gear is not yet obsolescent, outside maybe the US (Israeli / Saudi but there are other questions there) we are still on par with any other possible opponent. After… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

BV “Wildcat is shocking and brings nothing to the battlefield but cost an absolute fortune.” I’ve mentioned this before on here but was shot down in flames. As far as I’m concerned this was “jobs for the boys” in ex brass having interests in Yeovil and having to keep the home factory going, for a piece of kit very expensive indeed. I read we were offered 50 Blackhawk for 300 Million. This argument rears its head with the Tides of the RFA. The balance between home built at vast cost and kit that is useful at a good price that… Read more »

BV Buster
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BV Buster

Steve. The problem with challenger 2 is that it’s gun used to be world class, in all of the publications on the weapon it states how effective it is, the problem is those publication were written twenty years ago and it has now at a point where it is no longer competitive. To put it into perspective a 2A46 M5 fitted to a T72 out performes Challengers gun by quite some margin, it is not in the same class as the decades older RM L-44. The gun is not reliant on DU, there are none DU rounds available but they… Read more »

Martin
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Martin

Surely the problems you outline are best solved by automation. The Navy and the air force are able to do significantly more than at any time in history with less people than ever before. The army has very little productivity improvement since the Second World War. A country like Britain with very high skilled expensive labour can’t be expected to go toe to toe with a third world country like China or Russia if we use the same outdated equipment and artillery as they do. We can leverage our vastly superior technical capabilities especially in AI to deliver more punch… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

I don’t think the UK needs to be relevant on the world stage land power wise anyway BV. We are not a land power. We should however be relevant in the other domains. RN. RAF. UKSF. Intelligence. Deterrent. The last 3 of those we already are highly relevant already. Army should be structured to provide one war fighting division. This is what A2020R says it will be able to do but I agree there are many gaps and shortfalls. Light rapid reaction with the marines and paras, with DSF. Strike Brigades were a cover for cuts and a headline grabber… Read more »

BV Buster
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BV Buster

Daniele: I agree that we are not a land power, I know that, you know that, I’m just not sure the politicians know that. We spent a lot of money in the land domain, we should be getting a lot more out then we currently are, it seems like we are wasting money on areas that we will never use because they are not competitive, be it in quality or mass. We should decide to invest properly or completely de-invest and push the money into areas where we can be competitive, Imagine how many F-35s we could buy or how… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

Understood re rebasing. Thank you. Will be interesting how Strike works out. The two artillery regiments have Light Guns. Talk of being replaced by 155mm self propelled guns alike Ceaser. Agree as things stand woefully inadequate. The two Engineer regiments are being brought up to full strength squadron wise, as they previously had reserve complements. I’ve no idea what they will issue them with. Titan Trojan Terrier too heavy obviously. Boxer wheeled and Ajax tracked I just don’t understand. As things stand. And in doing so the armoured brigades lose their organic recc regiments. General Carter’s ideas I believe. I… Read more »

BV Buster
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BV Buster

Strike is interesting, the idea of a strategically mobile brigade that is able to self deploy opens up so many possibilities. For example, think of Russia and its most dangerous course of action, full on invasion of Eastern Europe, we all mobilize (not me, I’m a 15 year old Chinese kid) to counter the threat. How long would it take to get a sizable force to say Poland? Lets say 2 reinforced mech brigades, with all its bells and whistles?. Hundreds of Challenger 2s, Warriors, AS-90s, 432s, CVR(T)s will all need to be put on the back of a truck… Read more »

Steve
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Steve

Yeah we should just do permanent home bases like the Yanks. 4th Infantry division, for example, is based out of Fort Carson in Colorado, and that’s it’s permanent home base. Would be much better for the soldiers as they don’t need to up sticks every 3 years or so. They can buy houses in the local area, freeing up army housing for soldiers coming into the ranks out of training. Would also build better links with the community and avoids the expense of moving around the country. Also less disruption for spouses and kids; the latter can go to local… Read more »

BV Buster
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BV Buster

I don’t really have anything to say about BREXIT, it’s all going swimmingly if you ask me.

DaveyB
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DaveyB

The un-manned vehicle concept makes sense if it can actually do what it says on the tin? Prototyping on Salisbury plain is I hope just a first step, as how would these cope in the arctic, deserts or in a jungle environment? There are actually two types of vehicle required, a method of safely resupplying forward deployed troops, as these vehicles have been trying to do. But also a vehicle that can deploy with the troops that can carry extra ammo, food, batteries etc. We have been using the quad and trailer mostly but something that is just as robust… Read more »

john melling
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john melling

DaveyB

Would it be cheaper to have a multi tasking UGV rather than have separate types?

Further to your comment..
Portable\flexible solar power kits attached to the UGVs may help with recharging batteries.
Stop start engines saving fuel\electricity?

Those two are stuff we already have
How much fuel could they carry? and if they were to be hit by enemy fire, how vulnerable are they to going bang !

Like your comment as Its got me thinking ;P

I hope they make some rapid decisions on designs and show them in the near future to what they have in mind and their next phase of R & D.