13 March 2019

US Army clarifies rules on autonomous armed robots 

The US Department of Defense (DoD) has clarified its rules on the use of autonomous armed robots in battle, stating that humans will always have the final decision on deploying lethal action.

The DoD recently announced its plans to upgrade military aiming systems, using machine learning to create a gun platform that can choose its targets autonomously. Under the Advanced Targeting and Lethality Automated System (Atlas) project, the US Army will incorporate autonomous aiming capabilities into ground combat vehicles to help US army gunners reach a higher level of precision.

The DoD said, however, that it remains committed to rules governing the use of robots, known as directive 3000.09, which requires that every use of lethal action is decided by a human, meaning that human operators can veto actions proposed by the machine.

Some commentators have expressed their concerns over the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems, not least the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots spokesperson and University of Sheffield professor of AI and robotics Noel Sharkey.

Sharkey told us: “The US DoD directive 3000.09 requires ’appropriate levels of human judgement’ but the word ‘veto’ raises alarm bells. I would not call it meaningful human control if the robot weapon chooses the target and the only role of the human is to be able to ‘veto’ that decision. Meaningful human control requires the human to deliberate on potential targets to determine their legitimacy for every attack before firing on them.”

The US Army said on its federal business opportunities website that “the Army has a desire to leverage recent advances in computer vision and artificial intelligence/machine learning to develop autonomous target acquisition technology, that will be integrated with fire control technology, aimed at providing ground combat vehicles with the capability to acquire, identify, and engage targets at least three times faster than the current manual process.

“The ATLAS will integrate advanced sensors, processing, and fire control capabilities into a weapon system to demonstrate these desired capabilities.”

For the project, the DoD is looking for commercial partners to help deliver the autonomous aiming system. It held an industry open day on 12 March to discuss the use of automation on the battlefield and explore how the Atlas system can be updated in accordance with existing rules.

The US Army added: “The goal of this industry day is to provide developments achieved regarding these technologies within the traditional defence community, as well as the private sector, including those firms and academic institutions outside that do not traditionally do work with the US Army.”

12 March 2019

UK Government commits £30m to accelerate battlefield apps development

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has confirmed an additional £30m in funding to accelerate the development of battlefield apps.

The funding for the innovative Application and Software Design is part of the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) new £160m transformation fund. It supports efforts to provide advanced capabilities for the British armed forces.

The project is known as Platform for Rapid Exploitation of Digital Applications (PREDA).

It aims to create applications that can be rolled out on military networks in days. The initial focus will be to provide tools to support decision-making and command and control.

An MOD spokesperson told Army Technology that “PREDA will provide a step change in Defence’s ability to respond to the battlespace’s C4ISR demands through the rapid and innovative exploitation of Application and Software Design.  This will allow deployed commanders to employ tailored planning and targeting tools, specific to their operation.

“Whilst PREDA will initially provide tailored applications and software to support command and control and decision support in our operational and deployed headquarters, the initiative will have far wider utility.  We envisage that PREDA will be able to transform the wider business of prosecuting operations, including cyber defence, logistics, medical support, and financial management. It will also reach into the ‘back office’ of MOD.”

Based on the operational requirements, the new applications can be made suitable for use in different environments ranging from scenarios, such as natural disasters, and on the battlefield. The modern visualising and automatic software will provide secure, crucial data related to their missions at any location.

The UK Armed Forces will benefit from the battlefield apps as it will allow them to stay ahead of their enemies and effectively combat potential threats.

Williamson said: “From major natural disasters to the frontline on the battlefield, our Armed Forces are quick to react and even quicker to adapt. This technology matches that agility by enabling the creation of specialist digital applications that are tailored, secure and responsive.

“By deploying this technology into the hands of our military, from sailors serving in the Caribbean, to pilots working in the Middle East, we will ensure we have a fighting force fit for the future, equipped with state-of-the-art technology at their fingertips.”

The US Air Force and US Marine Corps have introduced a similar technology as PREDA and are already witnessing benefits from deploying modern software directly in the battlefield.

According to the MOD, the new technology for the battlefield apps is likely to be available by the end of the year to support operations across the world.

12 March 2019

US Government submits $750bn proposal for FY2020 DoD budget

The US Government has submitted a proposal of $750bn for the Department of Defense (DoD) budget for the fiscal year 2020.

Defence spending proposed by the government for national defence has been increased by $34bn or 5% over the 2019 enacted level.

The DoD budget will support efforts to rebuild readiness and lethality, strengthen alliances and partnerships, and improve performance and affordability through reform. It will allow the US Army to modernise current forces and aid in further training of the army to build partner capacity. Additionally, it will support operationalisation of the US cyber strategy while increasing artificial intelligence integration throughout the department.

In 2020, the DoD intends to use the funds to procure more than two million active and reserve military personnel, 12 battle force ships, 110 fighter aircraft and two large experimental unmanned surface vessels, and upgrade approximately two brigade combat teams.

Additionally, it plans to invest in autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, hypersonics, directed energy and other new technologies.

For the first time in 70 years, the DoD will launch a new programme that includes organisation and training of the armed forces to protect national interests in the fourth domain of warfare.

US President Donald Trump said: “My 2020 budget builds on the tremendous progress we have made and provides a clear roadmap for the Congress to bring federal spending and debt under control. A strong military, fully integrated with our allies and all our instruments of power, enables our nation to deter war, preserve peace, and, if necessary, defeat aggression against United States interests. “The budget funds the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, building on the major gains we have already made throughout the world.”

The budget also increases Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) amounts in 2020 and 2021 to nearly $165bn and $156bn respectively.

This will fund direct war costs, enduring in-theatre support, and certain base budget requirements. Furthermore, over $9bn has been requested in 2020 as an emergency requirement to address border security and hurricane recovery.

11 March 2019

US Navy awards contract to Northrop for AARGM-ER rocket motor

The US Navy has awarded a $322.5m contract to Northrop Grumman for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) programme of the AGM-88G advanced anti-radiation guided missile-extended range (AARGM-ER).

The contract requires Northrop to design, integrate and test a new solid rocket motor for the AARGM-ER.

ARGM-ER programme builds on the AARGM that is currently in production and will see the integration of the AARGM-ER on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler aircraft.

In addition, the AARGM-ER will be configured for internal carriage on the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF).

Northrop Grumman defence electronic systems vice-president Cary Ralston said: “AARGM-ER extended range coupled with AARGM lethality will meet a critical defence suppression requirement while protecting our strike aviators.”

The company will perform the majority of contract work in Northridge, California. Completion of the work is expected before the end of 2023.

According to Northrop, AARGM is an advanced weapon system that offers the capability to engage and destroy enemy air defences and time-critical, mobile targets. The supersonic, medium-range, air-launched AARGM missile is currently deployed with the US Navy, US Marine Corps, and Italian Air Force.

Northrop Grumman partnered with European missile manufacturer MBDA to provide the weapon system to the US and approved allied customers.

AARGM is designed to modernise the US Navy’s AGM-88 high-speed, anti-radiation missile system (HARM). It is equipped with an advanced anti-radiation homing sensor and a millimetre wave (MMW) radar terminal seeker. Other key features include global positioning system/inertial navigation system (GPS/INS) guidance, net-centric connectivity, and weapon impact assessment transmit (WIA).

The missile system can offer extended-range engagement, and organic, in-cockpit emitter targeting capability and situational awareness.

11 March 2019

DARPA seeks tools for 3D underground mapping and surveying

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has issued a request for information on advanced technologies and methodologies for 3D mapping and surveying of underground environments.

The request is in support of the agency’s Subterranean (SubT) Challenge, which aims to equip troops and first responders with superior capabilities to effectively execute missions underground. It will inform the agency’s pursuit of technologies for collecting and characterising 3D mapping and surveying data, which will allow troops to quickly and accurately conduct combat operations and disaster missions in the subterranean domain.

DARPA Tactical Technology Office (TTO) programme manager Timothy Chung said: “What makes subterranean areas challenging for precision mapping and surveying, such as lack of GPS, constrained passages, dark or dust-filled air, is similar to what inhibits safe and speedy underground operations for our warfighters. “Building an accurate three-dimensional picture is a key enabler to rapidly and remotely exploring and searching subterranean spaces.”

DARPA’s SubT Challenge seeks to examine ways to quickly map, navigate, search, and exploit underground environments such as human-made tunnel systems, urban underground, and natural cave networks.

Technologies that are designed to provide accurate and high-resolution precise and reproducible survey points with no dependence on substantial infrastructure are of particular interest.

Furthermore, technologies should be able to support easy manipulation, interpreted, and rendered data products into 3D mesh objects.

Selected proposals will demonstrate their capabilities for possible use in the SubT Challenge.

11 March 2019

USAF performs first autonomy flight test for TACE system

The US Air Force (USAF) 412th Test Wing’s Emerging Technologies (ET) Combined Test Force (CTF) has undertaken its first autonomy flight test.

The test involved the use of an autonomous algorithm to command the aircraft without direct human intervention. During the three-day flight test, the team collected data on the Testing of Autonomy in Complex Environments (TACE) system, which is test middleware developed by Johns Hopkins University.

412th Test Wing ET CTF Autonomy lead captain Riley Livermore said the system sits between an autonomy / artificial intelligence computer and an aircraft’s autopilot. The TACE system is designed to monitor the commands being sent from the autonomy to the autopilot and then transmit the aircraft state information such as position, speed and orientation back to the autonomy.

Livermore said: “Today, we had an autonomous algorithm commanding the aircraft without any direct human involvement; we call it human on the loop, as opposed to most remotely piloted aircraft that are human in the loop.”

As part of the autonomy flight test, a Swift Radio Planes-developed Lynx small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) was hand launched in the north part of Edwards Air Force Base, California.

The TACE payload can be used on different aircraft sizes for testing, according to Riley.

TACE performs two primary functions, ‘autonomy watchdog’ and ‘live-virtual-constructive’.

The second function enables interaction between simulated entities and live aircraft.

Livermore added: “If a safety-of-flight parameter is violated during an autonomously commanded manoeuvre, aka proximity to other test aircraft, flying out of an airspace boundary, or losing communications with the ground unit, then TACE will stop the commands from the autonomy and force it to remediate and loiter at a pre-determined safety location.”

“TACE controls what the autonomy computer sees and therefore can manipulate that information to allow for simulated entities to influence its decision making. For example, using TACE, a single live aircraft can fly in formation with a virtual wingman, with simulated sensors, flying in a simulated GPS-denied environment. The beautiful thing about TACE and LVC is that it can stress the autonomous algorithms without jeopardising the safety of flight.”

The flight test showcased the ability of TACE system onboard the Lynx sUAS to turn the aircraft around to its safety area when approaching a virtual border. Additionally, the test proved the system’s capability to track a simulated vehicle on the ground without human commands.

Another autonomous flight test is set to take place in the coming weeks. Once the ET CTF completes the TACE flight testing, it will be able to declare autonomy test initial operational capability.

6 March 2019

Raytheon wins DARPA contract to develop TBG hypersonic weapons

Raytheon Company has received a contract from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to further develop the tactical boost-glide (TBG) hypersonic weapons programme.

According to Raytheon, the $63.3m contract work is part of a joint effort of DARPA and the US Air Force (USAF) to develop and demonstrate technologies to enable future air-launched, tactical-range hypersonic boost-glide systems.

The contract includes a critical design review of the hypersonic weapons system, a significant step in fielding the technology.

In a hypersonic boost-glide system, the weapon uses a rocket to achieve hypersonic speeds at velocities greater than Mach 5. After the rocket accelerates to high speeds, the payload gets separated and glides ‘unpowered’ to its destination, DARPA stated in its website.

Raytheon Advanced Missile Systems vice-president Dr Thomas Bussing said: “This latest contract adds to Raytheon’s growing number of hypersonic weapons programmes. Raytheon is working closely with our customers to quickly field these advanced weapon systems and provide our nation’s military with the tools they need to stay ahead of the escalating threat.”

The weapon system will allow the US military to engage from longer ranges with shorter response times.

In October 2016, Raytheon Missile Systems won a $174.7m contract from DARPA to develop the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept. The company also secured a contract in April 2015 to develop a TBG missile hypersonic technology.

While the air-breathing scramjet relies on high speed for its power, the boost-glide model uses a re-entry vehicle to reach high altitudes.

8 March 2019

Leidos receives $962m US Navy cyber mission engineering contract

Leidos has secured a $962m multiple award contract from the US Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWARSYSCEN) Atlantic to provide engineering and information warfare services for cyber missions.

The indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity, hybrid cost-plus-fixed-fee contract has a base ordering period of five years and includes two one-year extension options. Leidos will deliver the contract work in multiple locations, including South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and California.

Under the contract, the company will provide cyber mission engineering and technical services in support of national security information warfare capabilities through sea, air, land, space, electromagnetic, and cyber domains.

The contract work involves providing support for command, control, communications, computers, combat systems, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (C5ISR), identity operations, enterprise information services and space programmes.

Leidos C4ISR Solutions operation manager Eric Freeman said: “We have provided our Navy customers with over 40 years of proven C4ISR systems engineering experience that enables warfighters to execute their critical missions for the nation. We will continue to expand upon our C4ISR work by leveraging this contract and other similar work for our defence customers.”

The company is also providing full lifecycle systems engineering support, including integration, testing, training, and cybersecurity for the US Navy’s Distributed Common Ground System Navy (DCGS-N).

Leidos noted that the cyber engineering agreement allows the company to compete for extension of its support contract for the DCGS-N programme and vie for other important C4ISR and cyber programmes.