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The tank of the future fights its battles autonomously

12 September 2017

BAE Systems reveals the tank of the future – an autonomous combat vehicle supported by fleets of other autonomous smaller air and ground vehicles.

Artistic impression of future battlefield (Credit: BAE Systems)

The fleet of air and ground vehicles would act as an outer perimeter for the main battle tank, sharing vital visual reconnaissance information. The vehicles would engage threats with on-board weapon stations, using conventional ballistics and countermeasures in the short-term before moving to laser directed energy weapons. By using ‘friend or foe’ tracking, the perimeter would also serve as protection for nearby troops. Soldiers would remain at the centre of decision making but removed from immediate danger. 

John Puddy, Technology Lead at BAE Systems Land (UK) explained: “We’re already taking steps to develop the vehicles and systems needed for this future concept. Our new unmanned ground vehicle, Ironclad, is being developed to work autonomously as part of a battlegroup and we’re also integrating unmanned aerial vehicles in current vehicle platforms.”

“No-one can be entirely sure what the future will look like, but we do know that it’s a relatively short step from the technology available today to having a fleet of autonomous vehicles sharing situational awareness and – where appropriate – making certain decisions independently. Today’s active protection systems already make decisions which require ultra-fast reactions such as triggering explosive reactive armour. The pace of development means these reactions need to be faster than ever before.

“The U.S. Marine Corps has said it wants to have an autonomous tank in the next five years, so this could start happening very quickly. The challenge for us at this stage is less around the technology development and more around the debate on the appropriate use of autonomy on the battlefield and questions about the cyber resilience of platforms given the evolving nature of this threat.

“From our expertise in protecting our air platforms from electronic warfare to our position today, BAE Systems has proven capability in managing the evolving threat of cyber-attacks across all domains. When it comes to decisions around the use of force, we are clear there will always be a ‘human in the loop’ in any autonomous system. However, we also know that there are other decisions that humans don’t need to make. It’s a similar debate to the driverless cars that are now being tested on our roads – we are having that debate now so that the UK is able to lead the world in autonomy.”

With the need to process and quickly react to the growing amount of battlefield information, manned platforms will incorporate more autonomous systems, reducing the cognitive burden on human decision makers.

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