Heading Toward the Future
There are several companies that offer mobility platforms upon which manipulators are mounted or are gun platforms. Most of them are semi-autonomous and fully controlled or driven by people. Full autonomy requires very sophisticated AI and accompanying sensor suites; there are robots currently being developed to aid soldiers (see Small Arms Defense Journal, Paul Evancoe, “The Warfare Renaissance,” Vol. 11, No. 4). Current mobile gun platforms are not true fully autonomous robots capable of hands-off weapons operation for field use; though they are in the R&D stage. That said, there are airborne and seaborne drones that are fully autonomous, and some of these carry a weapons suit. Why? Aircraft and ships generally travel in straight lines and don’t have the complex terrain and obstacle navigation issues land vehicles encounter. The so-called robotic platforms one sees at gun shows are not truly robots; they’re man-driven/guided “dumb” platforms that are weathered to a controller either by RF or wire.
While there is no AI-controlled/fully autonomous small arms platform available, here are a couple samples of human-guided platforms that may pave the way toward autonomous robotic weaponry.
FN HERSTAL AND MILREM ROBOTICS
deFNder® Medium Remote Weapon Station
The THeMIS unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) equipped with the deFNder® Medium Remote Weapon Station was deployed by Milrem Robotics and FN Herstal in Estonia during Spring Storm 2019, the country´s biggest annual military exercise held from April 29 through to May 17, 2019.
The UGV carrying a .50 caliber (12.7mm) heavy machine gun was being used by soldiers from the Kuperjanov Infantry Battalion who were faced with a variety of different battlefield scenarios, which included defensive and offensive actions. Combat missions were simulated and carried out in rural as well as urban areas.
This is the second time that FN Herstal and Milrem Robotics deployed their joint solution during the Spring Storm exercise in a continuous effort to perfect the force multiplier UGV for end-users.
“We are proud to maintain our partnership with Milrem Robotics by deploying our latest developments in realistic field conditions”, said Igor Klapka, VP Systems for FN Herstal. “For the first time, we are showcasing new ways to control the deFNder® Remote Weapon Station: the operator being mobile with the troops and commanding the weapon thanks to a portable controller and observing via a screen or through display goggles. As always, and more than ever, the human stays in-the-loop.”
“The deployment of the THeMIS UGV at Spring Storm greatly enhanced our combat effectiveness by adding mobility, increasing the effectiveness of combat service support and reducing soldier fatigue. Furthermore, using the UGV as a force multiplier with FN Herstal’s weapon system increased the effectiveness of battleground firepower,” stated Lt. Lauri Tõnisson from Kuperjanov infantry battalion.
Spring Storm is an annual military exercise conducted with about 10,000 members of the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF), NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup, and a variety of other allied units. The military personnel of Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Great Britain, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the United States of America, Ukraine and Estonia participated in this year’s exercise.
MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System)
Powerful, modular and combat-ready, the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS®) is an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) designed specifically for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) missions to increase the security of personnel manning forward locations. MAARS keeps soldiers at a safe distance from enemy fire while effectively executing security missions such as ambushes, hostage rescue, forced entry, booby-trapped areas, detainee riots, site security and IED. Remote placement of RSTA sensors into critical locations can be made up to several kilometers away, signaling threats and enabling an immediate response if required.
Equipped with multiple safety features, MAARS is operational only when receiving coded instructions from its operator. MAARS offers multiple options for the escalation of force when required by the Rules of Engagement (ROE)—from non-lethal lasers dazzlers and audio deterrents, to less-than-lethal grenades, to lethal fires from a grenade launcher or machine gun.