Autonomy Artificial Intelligence Robotics (AAIR)

Extending the Reach of the Warfighter through Robotics: Autonomous Execution of a Tactical Resupply and Surveillance Mission

by Mathew R. Deminico; Myron E. Mills


Continued proliferation of terrorist activities throughout the globe, as well as other low to medium intensity conflicts, present unique challenges to the US Army, Marines, and Special Operating Forces, especially in times of reduced manpower and operating budgets. Soldiers are called upon to do increasingly complex, dangerous, and lengthy missions with reduced troop strength and in more remote and austere conditions often far from traditional means of ready resupply. The need for organic persistent surveillance of potentially hostile areas is also of significant value to improve situational awareness and preserve the tactical advantage. The high risk nature of these missions can be significantly mitigated and operational tempo (OPTEMPO) improved by using unmanned solutions. Previously proposed solutions attempting to make use of Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) or Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) alone experienced multiple problems. One solution that addresses these issues is to team a relatively large and capable autonomous UGV with a similarly capable UAV, each with significant cargo capacity and Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) communications capabilities, and the UGV also having good surveillance sensor capabilities. The Lockheed Martin Squad Mission Support System (SMSS™) UGV equipped with a Gyrocam Tactical Surveillance Sensor (TSS) was flown by sling load into the “hostile” area using a Lockheed Martin K-MAX® rotorcraft, and a tactical resupply and surveillance mission was conducted in autonomous and tele-operated modes. Both the SMSS and K-MAX were equipped with mobile Satellite Communications (SATCOM) systems as well as local LOS communications systems. A remote Operations Center was equipped with SATCOM base stations to control and monitor the UxV activities. The program demonstrated that teamed autonomous UAV and UGV systems, properly equipped, provide improved stand-off, rapid tactical resupply, increased force protection, and increased time on site without exposing Soldiers. The key technical objectives of the project were demonstrating the ability of an unmanned rotorcraft to fly, deliver, and autonomously release a large UGV, and demonstrating the ability of the UAV/UGV team to remotely execute an end-to-end mission with limited user intervention. The project demonstrated for the first time that any ground-based remote sensing or resupply mission can be performed by UGVs and UAVs at any distance from the operator.