U.S. Army to expand testing of armed ground robots

The U.S. Army has conducted its first-ever live-fire exercise involving a ground-operated robot that was armed with a .50-cal. machine gun, with more testing planned for the next couple of years.

The “robot” was an unmanned M113 armored troop carrier; the test took place last July and August at Camp Grayling in Michigan as part of the annual Northern Strike exercise.

The exercises, which are primarily oriented toward reserve units, featured the unmanned M113 test; the vehicle was guided by a driver and weapons operator who followed behind in an M577 command post vehicle.

“The scenario here was a complex breach in a minefield,” Paul Rogers, director of the Army’s Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC, told an American media outlet. “You had engineer platoons with infantry support going in and putting in Bangalore torpedos,” which are long tubes of explosives used to clear mines, he added.

The remotely piloted M113 provided suppressive fire as the engineers worked.

Armed robots have deployed previously with U.S. forces. By 2007 in Iraq, a modified mini-tank bot called the SWORDS (short for Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System) that was armed with an M249 machine gun was being used in the streets alongside U.S. troops. The project was ended after the SWORDS vehicle began behaving erratically and in an unsafe manner.

Rogers could not say when the Army would deploy armed robots because that depended on how long testing would last and whether those tests, ultimately, would be successful. [source]

Analysis: It’s safe to assume that at some point armed robotic systems will become regular additions to some units’ TOE (Table of Organization and Equipment). Testing really is just now beginning in earnest, and obviously, the Army is looking to first modify existing systems.

Automated weapons systems have been in use for some time; the CROWS — Common Remotely Operated Weapon System — began showing up on Army MRAPs in Afghanistan as early as 2009-2010. These are generally roof-mounted weapons systems compatible with the MK19, M2, M240B, M249 and Javelin systems. So clearly the U.S. military is heading in the direction of developing and deploying more robotic systems, not less, because they are effective and because they help save lives.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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