Thursday, March 01, 2018 by David Williams
For the first time, the United States Army has begun the testing of a ground-based robot that can shoot at specified targets with a .50-caliber top-mounted machine gun. It’s a self-driving vehicle called the “Wingman”. It’s part of a broader program and initiative to develop other armed robotic vehicles just like it. According to reports on its development, it is currently being tested to measure its ability to accurately identify and shoot its targets.
According to a statement from the U.S. Army itself, the Wingman is best described as an autonomous remote engagement system that can help reduce the time that it usually takes to identify targets. It does this by relying on a “vision-based automatic target detection and user-specified target selection,” the Army report noted. They already began tests involving the Wingman some time last year, but the Army now hopes to conduct even more exercises with other types of heavily armed ground robots quite soon.
According to Paul Rogers, the director of the Army’s Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), the latest live fire exercise involving Wingman had some specific guidelines.
“The scenario here was a complex breach in a minefield,” he explained. “You had engineer platoons with infantry support going in and putting in bangalore torpedoes.”
Bangalore torpedoes are explosive charges placed in tubes that can be used to clear out mines or get rid of common obstacles.
In case you aren’t familiar with it, the Army’s Wingman program involves the use of an autonomous Humvee truck with a top-mountain machine gun. It’s an unmanned vehicle that can make its way around various locations with an accompanying manned vehicle close by at all times. This secondary vehicle, which has a crew of three soldiers, serves as the control center and backup in case of emergency.
In the past, the Army has already used armed robots in the battlefield. The Iraq War in 2003 had been one such battle. But it is only now that they are testing for accuracy with specific targets, which is seen as an overall effort to successfully weaponize robotics.
In one report, Rogers has stated that the Army has been looking to introduce more autonomous technologies to armed robots in the battlefield. However, their progress in the area has been remarkably slow for some reason compared with the progress in the other services.
Knowing the limitations of current automation technologies, as well as the need for further testing, it could be easy for anyone to see how the Army’s efforts to develop heavily armed robot weapons could go horribly wrong. However, that is precisely why a manned vehicle is sent to accompany the Wingman at all times; soldiers will still be the ones deciding when to pull the trigger, not computers.
According to Thomas B. Udvare, the deputy chief of the program, they are on top of the situation with regards to the possibility of unintended outcomes.
“You’re not going to have these systems go out there like in ‘The Terminator’ [film],” he said. “For the foreseeable future, you will always have a soldier in the loop.”
Keep track of the military’s progress with this effort and more in NationalSecurity.news.