Last week, I was at Northrop Grumman's offices in Rosslyn, Va., for a press briefing on the DARPA-funded HURT II program. (HURT=Heterogeneous Unmanned Reconnaissance Team).
The idea is pretty straightforward. One day, the US Army may want to operate its unmanned aircraft fleet more like a collaborative team, and this could be the software package that makes it happen.
Think of an automated dispatch system that assigns UAVs to missions based on priority versus which units just happen to be lucky enough to have one in their area. As one UAV is re-assigned, the rest in theory are re-tasked to cover the hole.
It all works well on a power-point chart with lightning bolts, but the system's true abilities and worth will be evaluated over the next two years. The army may decide to pay for it or take a pass.
But I wonder if the basic idea of HURT could be even more interesting if applied to weapons and not just sensors.
As weaponized unmanned vehicles proliferate, keeping humans in the loop every time a trigger needs to be pulled will be challenging. There is already pressure to automate as much of the target acquisition process as possible, and I wonder if the push for automation will continue on to the target engagement process?
If so, the HURT system appears to be the beginnings of the command and control software necessary to make it work.
Of course, the ethics and legality of automated trigger-pulling by unmanned weapons systems is a whole different conversation, but that discussion is already taking place, as I wrote about on this blog a few months ago. (Click here.)