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Video Above: Army Futures Command Breaks Through with Robotics, AI Enabled War

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

Upon initial examination, the prospect of a mobile, robotic missile launcher might cause some alarm, given that technology is evolving to the point where autonomous weapons systems have the ability to maneuver in combat while sensing, tracking, targeting and even destroying an enemy without human intervention.

However, this is a dynamic the US Army is well aware of and has been tracking for many years, to ensure technological progress does not outpace military doctrine.

There will not be a Terminator soon.

Therefore, the most pressing and important element for the Army and other military services, when it comes to weapons and autonomy, is the continued priority that any and all decisions regarding the use of lethal force are to be left to humans. It is upon this premise the weapons developers continue to quickly advance autonomy within a certain key conceptual framework, referred to as manned-unmanned teaming or human-machine interface. The idea is to leverage the best attributes of both human cognition and machine-enabled autonomy to optimize combat effectiveness in an integrated way.

The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System fires the Army's new guided Multiple Launch Rocket System during testing at White Sands Missile Range.

The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System fires the Army's new guided Multiple Launch Rocket System during testing at White Sands Missile Range.

“The guidance that we've received from our most senior leaders is to use capabilities like artificial intelligence, or advanced robotics, to augment soldiers, not necessarily to replace them,” Maj. Gen. John Rafferty, Director, Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command, told Warrior in an interview.

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Rafferty explained this in the context of a recent technological breakthrough at the Army’s Ground Vehicle System Center in Detroit wherein cutting edge autonomy kits or packages were integrated onto a mobile High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. 

HIMARS has been a vital weapon for the US Army, as it enables an ability to both maneuver with mobile launchers and strike targets as far away as 300miles. Linking a manned HIMARS to an unmanned HIMARS, Rafferty explained, brings a paradigm-changing combat multiplier.

“We're developing prototypes now for an autonomous launcher that will help thicken our force of the HIMARS rocket launcher fleet. The way we're developing that concept is absolutely a manned HIMARS accompanied by an unmanned HIMARS. The unmanned high Mars helps to thicken the force and can help to reduce the risk to the, to the manned platforms, and deliver more firepower,” Rafferty said.

As algorithms advance, weapons developers hope to leverage the processing speeds, analytical functions and procedural tasks AI-enabled machines and weapons systems can perform, while at the same time sustain a human in a decision-making command and control capacity. In that way, more subjective determinations pertaining to a host of less calculable variables can be left to the unique attributes of human decision making, while sensing, targeting and data organization and analysis can be done by machines. This synergy, Rafferty and other innovators and weapons developers explain, introduces and entirely new high-speed operational dynamic of great consequence.

“We view the targeting process as a man-unmanned team. The commander starts out with his high payoff target list and his target selection standards, so the degree of accuracy and fidelity and latency associated with the target information, and then the attack guidance matrix. If we find a target, what system do we use to attack it? That's the manned portion,” Rafferty said.

There are without question things machines can do in milliseconds, exponentially faster than humans, yet there are also key decision-making functions best handled by humans. Therefore, merging the two generates new levels of high-speed accurate attack, shortening the “sensor-to-shooter” timeline. 

An unmanned HIMARS, for example, could surveil targets from a forward location while awaiting attack command specifics from a human decision maker. This, as Rafferty explained, “thickens” the battlefield by adding range and firepower while also lowering risk to human soldiers in the line of enemy fire.

“We can use machines to follow rules and expedite much of the process, and get away from humans pushing buttons. By getting machines to follow those rules, we think we can do it accurately and obviously much more quickly in the targeting process. That's a way I can describe this man-unmanned team, and this human-machine interface,” Rafferty said. 

Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President - Center for Military Modernization