Army weapons officials recently showed off its latest effort at arming an unmanned vehicle to keep soldiers safer on the battlefield.
The Ripsaw unmanned ground vehicle, though still in development, has been tested and is capable of driving up to 1 kilometer ahead of various types of formations, said Bob Testa, lead engineer for the Remote Weapons Branch of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC.
Rather than reinvent something, Testa said his team selected a vehicle already produced by Howe and Howe Technologies, since it had remote driving capabilities. In 2009, "Popular Science" magazine named the Ripsaw the invention of the year.
Testa and his team converted the vehicle for Army use, according to a recent Army press release. The Ripsaw is armed with a Common Remotely Operated Weapons Station, or CROWS, a system that’s been used in combat as far back as 2004 in Iraq.
CROWS allows a soldier inside a tank, Humvee, Stryker or any other vehicle to fire his weapon safely from inside the armor-protected vehicle. Cameras and range finders on CROWS see for him and the system can tilt and swivel the weapon as needed.
While that capability probably resulted in a lot of saved lives, the soldier inside the vehicle could still be killed or injured from a large enemy mine or projectile. So Testa's team took the remotely-operated system one step further. They completely removed the soldier from the vehicle.
So the next step for his team was to design a weapon to fire remotely. ARDEC developed the Advanced Remote Armament System, or ARAS, a gun that self-loads its own ammunition and even can swap out various types of ammunition, such as lethal and non-lethal, in just a few seconds, he said.
During tests, the Ripsaw was followed by an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier. Trailing up to a kilometer behind, the M113 was driven by a soldier. Another soldier, in the vehicle, controls the Ripsaw and its weapon wirelessly, Testa said.
While it is technically feasible to go one step further and make the whole system robotic, meaning fully autonomous, Testa said that would not happen.
The Ripsaw and its ARAS are "tele-operated," he said. That means a soldier remotely drives it and operates and fires the weapon.
Army leaders have repeatedly said that "war is a human endeavor" and robots will never replace soldiers, he said.
Besides the ethical reason, Department of Defense Directive 3000.09 "Autonomy in Weapon Systems," published in November 2012, prohibits robots from making life and death decisions without a human in control.
While a lot of experimentation and testing has occurred, Testa said formal certification testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, would still be required to move forward. Also needed will be a "firm requirement" from the Army to move ahead past the development phase, Testa said.