Robots Could Save Soldiers’ Lives, Army General Says

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2011 — Robots and unmanned sys­tems poten­tial­ly could improve ene­my sur­veil­lance, reduce a soldier’s work­load and save lives on the bat­tle­field, an Army gen­er­al said here this week.

 Oshkosh TerraMax autonomous vehicle
Oshkosh Ter­ra­Max autonomous vehi­cle.
Oshkosh pho­to
Click to enlarge

Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, com­mand­ing gen­er­al of the U.S. Army Instal­la­tion Man­age­ment Com­mand and assis­tant Army chief of staff for instal­la­tion man­age­ment, addressed an audi­ence at a ses­sion of the 2011 Unmanned Sys­tems North Amer­i­ca con­fer­ence host­ed by the Asso­ci­a­tion for Unmanned Vehi­cle Sys­tems International. 

“As I think about what’s hap­pen­ing on the bat­tle­field today,” Lynch said, “I con­tend there are things we could do to improve the sur­viv­abil­i­ty of our ser­vice mem­bers. And you all know that’s true.” 

His audi­ence includ­ed some of AUVSI’s 7,000 atten­dees, rep­re­sent­ing the inter­na­tion­al defense enter­prise; indus­try; com­mer­cial, civil­ian and first-respon­der devel­op­ers; researchers; robot­ic sys­tem oper­a­tors and users; and acqui­si­tion interests. 

“When I look at the 153 sol­diers who paid the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice,” Lynch said, refer­ring to sol­diers who died under his com­mand in Iraq, “I know that 80 per­cent of them were placed in a sit­u­a­tion where we could have placed an unmanned sys­tem in the same job.” 

As an Army offi­cer and U.S. Mil­i­tary Acad­e­my grad­u­ate, Lynch went to grad­u­ate school at the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy, earn­ing a master’s degree in mechan­i­cal engi­neer­ing with a focus on robot­ics. As part of his the­sis at MIT, he designed a robot­ic manip­u­la­tor that could be used to load 60-pound main gun rounds in a tank mov­ing at 30 mph. 

The Army has used increas­ing­ly capa­ble robot­ic and unmanned sys­tems for near­ly 10 years. As a robot­ics engi­neer, Lynch said, he’s seen some progress in the Army’s use of such sys­tems, but he makes a case for expand­ed and accel­er­at­ed use. 

In Iraq, in a place called Arab Jabour south­east of Bagh­dad, Lynch com­mand­ed 25,000 sol­diers who were part of Task Force Marne. Over six months, he said, they killed or cap­tured 6,000 insurgents. 

“What I real­ized I was lack­ing on the bat­tle­field then, and I con­tend it’s prob­a­bly still lack­ing today, is the abil­i­ty for a per­sis­tent stare,” the gen­er­al said. 

What he did have, Lynch said, were unmanned aer­i­al sys­tems, which he called “a mag­nif­i­cent capa­bil­i­ty for watch­ing that area from the air.” 

“The prob­lem was they did­n’t have suf­fi­cient loi­ter time, [and] … I did­n’t have suf­fi­cient assets,” he added. 

Today over Iraq and Afghanistan, such sys­tems have flown more than 1.2 mil­lion com­bat hours. 

But if unmanned aer­i­al sys­tems are going to improve sur­veil­lance, Lynch said, “we could focus on capa­bil­i­ties like per­sis­tent stare. I’ve seen the tech­nol­o­gy over the last 28 years — I know where we are.” 

Lynch said these sys­tems, which fly from Point A to Point B at oper­a­tional speeds, could be used in mod­i­fied ways to pro­duce the same results afford­ed by per­sis­tent stare, Lynch said. 

“That would be pow­er­ful — an addi­tion­al appli­ca­tion on the bat­tle­field today to improve sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness,” he added. 

The Army uses robot­ic ground sys­tems that haul gear, nav­i­gate tun­nels and rough ter­rain, mon­i­tor remote areas, cap­ture and trans­mit images, search for road­side bombs, remove obsta­cles from roads and some­times go where no sol­dier can safe­ly go. 

Such robots can be used to reduce a soldier’s work­load, and even can make up for the reduc­tion in the Army’s civil­ian work­force that will occur over the next year as the defense bud­get is cut. 

As com­man­der of the Army’s Instal­la­tion Man­age­ment Com­mand, Lynch is respon­si­ble for what he calls “120,000 ded­i­cat­ed civil­ians world­wide.” Defense cuts are reduc­ing Lynch’s by about 7,000 by the end of fis­cal 2012, he said. “Could we use robot­ics to address some of those issues?” he asked the audi­ence. “I con­tend the answer is yes.” 

Not many of the Army’s robots, though, are com­plete­ly autonomous. Most are remote­ly con­trolled or tele-oper­at­ed, mean­ing real-time con­trol of remote­ly locat­ed machines. 

“I’m an advo­cate of autonomous vehi­cle tech­nol­o­gy. … There’s a place on the bat­tle­field for tele-oper­at­ed sys­tems, [but] we have to con­tin­ue to advo­cate for pur­suit of autonomous vehi­cle tech­nol­o­gy,” he said. 

In 2009, as 3rd Corps com­mand­ing gen­er­al at Fort Hood, Texas, Lynch orga­nized a Robot Rodeo. As part of the fes­tiv­i­ties, Lynch and Gen. Ann Dun­woody, com­man­der of the U.S. Army Materiel Com­mand, rode on a ful­ly autonomous vehi­cle called Ter­ra­Max, devel­oped by Oshkosh Defense. 

“We got in the bed of a truck that [had] trav­eled across coun­try in an autonomous fash­ion,” Lynch said. “It was she and I, and some­body sit­ting behind the wheel for safe­ty rea­sons, but he did­n’t have to touch the wheel or the brakes or the accel­er­a­tor. He did­n’t have to touch any­thing, because it was an autonomous sys­tem,” the gen­er­al added. 

“We all know that could hap­pen,” he said. “What I’m con­cerned about is peo­ple say­ing, ‘We don’t need that. Tele-oper­at­ed is good enough.’ But I don’t believe that’s true.” 

To reduce the work­load, Lynch said, “we’ve got to keep the warfight­er in the loop, but he does­n’t have to be ded­i­cat­ed to a par­tic­u­lar mission.” 

“You can give the sys­tem a cer­tain degree of autonomous capa­bil­i­ty so [the warfight­er] can mon­i­tor and super­vise mul­ti­ple sys­tems and con­tin­ue his mis­sion with a reduced work­load,” he said. 

Over the last 28 years, Lynch added, he has made it a point to host some kind of robot­ic vehi­cle demon­stra­tion every­where he’s been. “And I’ve seen the evo­lu­tion of tech­nol­o­gy,” he added. “I believe can­did­ly we can accel­er­ate the evo­lu­tion of autonomous tech­nol­o­gy if peo­ple would just acknowl­edge that it’s important.” 

Maj. Gen. Wal­ter L. Davis, deputy direc­tor of the U.S. Army Capa­bil­i­ties Inte­gra­tion Cen­ter, part of the U.S. Army Train­ing and Doc­trine Com­mand, joined Lynch at the con­fer­ence. Today, he said, unmanned sys­tems improve per­sis­tence, endurance and pro­tec­tion across all warfight­ing functions. 

“They pro­vide sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness, unmanned lethal and non­lethal fires, unat­tend­ed pre­ci­sion tar­get attack and acqui­si­tion, max­i­mum stand­off from threats, … and per­form unmanned logis­tics sup­port and ser­vices,” he said. 

The capa­bil­i­ties that unmanned sys­tems enable are unques­tioned, the gen­er­al added. “[And] at least from the Army’s per­spec­tive, this is all about our sol­dier, who is the cen­ter of grav­i­ty,” he said. 

The sol­dier, Davis said, “must be the focus of every­thing we’re try­ing to accom­plish, and it’s about enabling that sol­dier to be more effec­tive, effi­cient and pro­tect­ed while sup­port­ing the Army’s mission.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →