Future Operating Environment

Link | Could Autonomous Systems Hold Rank? | Wavell Room

By The Cove July 29, 2020

In this thought provoking article posted on the Wavell Room website, Major Andy Bell looks at the social challenges that may arise with the ongoing technological development in areas such as machine learning, neural networks and artificial intelligence.


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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


The recent Government announcement re future defence planning included reference to “Options for a system to replace the current tank capability when it reaches its end of life” and “A future program to develop a directed energy weapon system able to be integrated onto ADF protected and armoured vehicles, and capable of defeating armoured vehicles up to and including main battle tanks”. This is exactly the foresight that’s to be expected of our Defence staff. The US is looking at exactly the same thing (and have been for many years). The Abrams tank is great today and can be improved to meet the needs of tomorrow. But what about the day after and the day after that? What will the replacement for the Abrams look like? The answer to that has to start with the role that the tank fulfils on the battlefield. Is it possible that future wars will not involve infantry? There will be all sorts of autonomous machines, but will any be able to take the place of a soldier? The answer is certainly ‘no’ in the timeframe under consideration. It follows that there will be a need to provide direct fire support, aka the tank. It also follows that the Abrams replacement may not be anything like the Abrams. It will be mobile, conceivably a hovercraft to reduce the limitations imposed by terrain. It will be protected, possibly not by armour but by an active force shield. Its weapon might be a laser, but could also be a ‘rail-gun’. Crew are likely to be minimal. It is known that the US Army is examining the possibility of the ‘optionally manned tank’, ie. an AFV which could operate either with a crew or as an autonomous unit. Speaking of which, the acronym AAAS, might not be well known: Abundant, Affordable, and Autonomous Systems. The concept of the battlefield being dominated by AAAS, is not as extreme as it sounds. The impetus as far as this is concerned, is likely to be the development of active (and relatively lightweight) protection systems. Without the burden of armour, AAAS will be able to revolutionise warfare. All these aspects are open to technological development. What does the final solution have to be capable of? Lethality … survivability … mobility: under all extremes of climate and terrain. Sounds a bit like a tank.

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