Army Develops Robotic Supply Convoys to Save Soldiers

Robot ConvoyU.S. Army leaders hope to one day resupply troops with unmanned, ground convoys and pilotless, cargo-carrying drone aircraft.

The Pentagon is continuing to build on the experience it has gained with unmanned technology over in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. military forces have enjoyed success using small unmanned ground vehicles to search enemy caves and suspected enemy bombs. Large, armed drone aircraft have also proven effective at destroying high-value enemy leaders in remote areas.

Now, Army scientists are working to use this unmanned technology for large-scale, resupply operations.

The Army Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC, and Lockheed Martin recently completed a successful demonstration that showed fully autonomous convoys operating in urban environments using multiple vehicles types.

The demonstration earlier this month at Fort Hood, Texas, was part of the Army and Marine Corps’ Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System program, or AMAS. It marked the completion of the program’s Capabilities Advancement Demonstration.

The test involved driverless M915 tactical trucks and the Palletized Loading System vehicles navigating hazards and obstacles such as road intersections, oncoming traffic, stalled and passing vehicles, pedestrians and traffic circles in both urban and rural test areas, according to a recent Lockheed Martin release.

“The AMAS CAD hardware and software performed exactly as designed, and dealt successfully with all of the real-world obstacles that a real-world convoy would encounter,” said David Simon, AMAS program manager for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.

The Unmanned Mission Module part of AMAS, which includes a high performance LIDAR sensor, a second GPS receiver and additional algorithms, is installed as a kit and can be used on virtually any military vehicle, Lockheed officials maintain.

Senior Army leaders representing the Army Materiel Command, the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC), the Combined Arms Support Command and TARDEC witnessed the demonstration, according to Lockheed officials.

The AMAS CAD was jointly funded by ARCIC and Lockheed Martin. While the AMAS JCTD is aimed at augmenting the safety and security of human drivers in a convoy mission, the CAD was aimed at completely removing the soldier from the cab.

“It was very important that we had representation from the technology, acquisition and user bases, along with our industry partners, here at the CAD,” said TARDEC technical manager Bernard Theisen. “We are very pleased with the results of the demonstration, because it adds substantial weight to the Army’s determination to get robotic systems into the hands of the warfighter.”

But ground-based resupply is only part of the effort.

In Afghanistan, combat outposts require on average 100,000 pounds of material a week, and high elevation and impassable mountain roads often restrict access.

Helicopters are one solution, but the supply of available helicopters can’t meet the demand for their services, which cover diverse operational needs including resupply, tactical insertion and extraction, and casualty evacuation, according to Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency officials.

As a potential solution, DARPA has been working on a prototype that would provide flexible, terrain-independent transportation for logistics, personnel transport and tactical support missions for small ground units.

DARPA’s Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System design, known as ARES, would rely on a vertical take-off and landing flight module, designed to operate as an unmanned aerial vehicle capable of transporting a variety of payloads. The flight module would have its own power system, fuel, digital flight controls and remote command-and-control interfaces, DARPA officials said.

Twin tilting ducted fans would provide efficient hovering and landing capabilities in a compact configuration, with rapid conversion to high-speed cruise flight similar to small aircraft. The system could use landing zones half the size typically needed by similarly sized helicopters, enabling it to land in rugged terrain and aboard ships, officials said.

“Many missions require dedicated vertical take-off and landing assets, but most ground units don’t have their own helicopters,” said Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager.

DARPA officials see the flight module traveling between its home base and field operations to deliver and retrieve several different types of detachable mission modules, each designed for a specific purpose such as cargo pickup and delivery, casualty extraction or airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. The flight module would have a useful load capability of up to 3,000 pounds, more than 40 percent the takeoff gross weight of the aircraft.

Units could direct the flight modules using apps on their mobile phones or ruggedized tablets. Initially, the system would be unmanned, with a future path towards semi-autonomous flight systems and user interfaces for optionally manned/controlled flight.

ARES is currently in its third and final phase of development. Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is the lead vehicle design and system integration performer for Phase 3 of the program.

“ARES would make organic and versatile VTOL capability available to many more individual units,” Bagai said. “Our goal is to provide flexible, terrain-independent transportation that avoids ground-based threats, in turn supporting expedited, cost-effective operations and improving the likelihood of mission success.”

25 Comments on "Army Develops Robotic Supply Convoys to Save Soldiers"

  1. Isn't this a timely technology? Now that they are laying off all our soldiers, they can have drone convoys resupply our drone army, with a drone air force to provide air support. Who says the defense contractors can't have it all?

  2. Why not robotic helicopter supply convoys? Why waste time and money on these mega armored behemoths that a farmer with a bag of fertilizer can and will go after.

  3. fully autonomous?? really?

  4. Well this is all nice but will this get slashed as well due to the recent proposed defense cuts?

  5. Ok…..

    Common sense question?

    With NOBODY minding the store?

    Couldn't the bad guys just hop on board….Take EVERYTHING and Leave without a shot being fired?

    It sure would be a manpower savings for bad guys ……

    Lot's of empty arrivals to the troops who need stuff, eh?

    This wet dream is a waste of the tax payers money….

  6. BIG down side computer don't react to changing environment and threats. I see whole convoys being wiped out and the computers wont fight back to save the convoy or divert to another direction, same for helicopters. I do not like this idiotic idea to remove humans from war and replace them with robots. We have no terminator tech yet and these computers systems are too rigid to coup with real life scenarios. Hay how about a computer glitch send the convoy to the enemy it sent a stealth drone to Iran so computer can mess up our men again.

  7. resistance is futile. you will be assimilated.

  8. Looting will even easier.

    The Taliban will call them tribute caravans.

  9. Drone vehicles can commit "suicide", making themselves very unattractive hijack targets.

  10. Just throw a child under the wheels of a truck and broadcast US military robot trucks killing babies. The whole fleet will be suspended while the investigation happens. Then claim it is a cover up when the Army says it wasn’t their fault.

  11. How many Americans drive trucks for a living? When civilian trucks are all robots what do these people do? Fight illegal aliens for jobs here or try to compete on wages with Chinese and Indian peasants for outsourced jobs.

  12. Who pumps their gas?

    All the enemy has to do is put enough obstacles in their path and reroute them enough times that they run out of gas. Then you have to send people out to fill them up or spend another billion to design refueling robots.

  13. How about they conduct a real test and ambush this automated convoy with real weapons fire and IED'S and lets see what happens then…

  14. It will be a convoy to resupply the enemy. But just because it doesn't work, doesn't mean a defense contractor can't make a ton of money developing it.

  15. Seen this in sci fic movie Solar Crisis from 90s, huge convoys of civil semi tractor trailers Xing then desert.
    From Japan.
    On DVD

  16. Dumb! Put a car in the road and they are sitting ducks to re-supply the enemy!

    What rocket scientist didnt think of that?

  17. Too many folks making assumptions about TTPs without doing any research. The idea is to minimize impact on living souls. Robots do what is dull, dirty and dangerous. So instead of having a minimum rest time for the (minimum 2) drivers per vehicle, the convoy can refuel and hit the road again. And fully autonomous doesn't necessarily mean unmanned. Have you heard of the "driverless vehicles" being experimented with in the private sector? Do you think those vehicles won't have passengers? The idea is to have vehicles that do the driving (avoiding obstacles, obeying traffic laws, etc.), while passengers do whatever else. For a military convoy, that might be observing the roadside for signs of IED and ambush.

  18. What would keep a guy with a laptop and some brains from rerouting it to their base? Nothing with a computer is safe. When have seen that they can be hacked at all levels

  19. No matter what kind of excuse is mentioned here the idea IS a WASTE of the taxpayers money….
    The vehicles ARE UNMANNED…To put troops guarding it defeats the purpose…
    There are NOT EVEN enough ARMED drones to protect ALL the convoys…
    AGAIN….
    You are just saving bad guys the task driving stuff when they could have the US drive stuff right to their front door w/o ANY resistance to them stealing the stuff….
    One hopes this idea along with the mechanical dog idiocy are quietly made to go away….

  20. yeah
    anyone remeber ressources-management in games like i.e. starcraft … ?!

    What about the pheromone-tracks that are used by ants, wouldn't such a system make pathfinding easier for those machines?

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  25. All the foe needs to do is put enough snags in their way and reroute them enough times that they come up short on gas. At that point you need to send individuals out to top them off or spend another billion to outline refueling robots.

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