Autonomous Warrior 2018:
Defence Industry was a key participant
Autonomous Warrior 2018 (AW18) had three significant parts – the Industry Dynamic Exhibition (IDE) which involved displays and demonstrations associated with autonomous vehicles and systems, the Autonomy Strategic Challenge (ASC) exercise of several scenarios, organised by The Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP) of the Five Eyes Community, plus Navy and Army exercising their existing unmanned vehicles.
The RAN, Defence Science and Technology, Air Force Research Lab (US), Defence Technology Agency (NZ), and Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl – UK) all had displays and demonstrations. Apart from several university groups and a large number of Australian specialist companies, five major international defence prime contractors – Boeing (and its subsidiaries Liquid Robotics, Insitu and Digital Receiver Technology), L3 Communications, Leidos, Northrop Grumman and Thales – participated.
In the space of this short article it is not possible to give full credit for the ingenuity and enthusiasm on display at the IDE and at the maritime, land and airfield venues provided by HMAS Cresswell, Jervis Bay. APDR is confident that an approach to any of these organisations will result in much fuller information being supplied. What now follows is a much-abbreviated description of products from each participant seen by APDR, summarised alphabetically within domains for ease of reference.
Arriving at the waterfront marquee, the sea out front had a passing parade of autonomous unmanned surface vessels (USVs) of different shapes, sizes and colours.
First to catch APDR’s eye was the little yellow Integrated Zboat provided by the Blue Zone Group and in service with the ADF. This is a remote surface vessel solution for inshore/littoral surveillance and rapid environmental awareness survey using integrated sonar and LIDAR systems. Its high-resolution video, thermal and still camera’s information was being received by an Army officer inside the marquee, who had quite the best view of the beautiful harbour and white sandy beaches of any of the participants’ stands.
Literally dashing about further out in the harbour, it is capable of speeds up to 45 knots, was Dstl’s 10.4m length Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed (MAST). The MAST project is developing an intelligent USV to understand how potentially disruptive technologies may best be exploited. Key investigations cover safe autonomous navigation, high speed operations, collision regulation compliant behaviours, integration with higher level command and control (C2), and integration with a target vessel.
Although APDR only saw the initial launch of Defentex’s Hydra UxV vessel in the harbour, inside the marquee there was video playing showing Hydra transitioning from vertical take-off and landing, traditional propeller, wing in ground effect or subsurface propulsion. A very spectacular concept.
Inside the marquee Boeing Defence Australia (BDA) had a small model of their subsidiary Liquid Robotics Wave Glider. L3 Oceania had a full size one on their stand, prominently marked as being ‘Property of the Department of Defence’. Wave Glider is capable of long endurance missions, with solar panels powering its electronics and wave motion generating its propulsive energy.
APDR was privileged to stand beside Robert Dane, founder and CEO of Ocius Technology, as we watched the distinctive blue hull of Ocius’s 5.53m Bluebottle unmanned surface vessel platform making a brave sight cutting through the water, autonomously following tracks set by the Ocius mission C2 software. Ocius is an agile Australian SME working with DST Group, Navy, UNSW and AMSA to build trusted autonomous C2 networks of vessels operating and integrating with other manned and unmanned assets.
The week after AW18 ended, Ocius invited APDR to the christening of their next-gen Bluebottle “Bob”, named in honour of their ex-Chairman, the Honourable Bob Hawke AC. “Bob” incorporates design improvements made after experience with “Bruce” at AW18 and earlier.
Ocius also provided their C2 systems for the DST/Navy GRIM (Great Reinvigoration of Innovation in Mine-Warfare) catamaran, developed by an RAN engineer. GRIM gives mine warfare sailors exposure to unmanned surface vessel development and operation. It will prepare them for future acquisitions within the SEA 1778 project. This vessel was built especially for AW18 with 100% donated sensors and hardware, with primary help from Ocius Technology as well as Thales Australia, DST and Flinders University.
Northrop Grumman had their AN/AQS-24B airborne and surface mine hunting system mounted on an 11m autonomous surface vessel travelling in patterns around the harbour.
SUB-SURFACE VESSELS, SYSTEMS AND TECHNOLOGIES
Obviously, there were no demonstrations of sub-surface vehicles to be seen from the shore! But within the waterfront marquee there were a range of stands where the vehicles could be seen and discussed.
In July 2017 Ron Allum Deepsea Services was awarded a $3.17m Defence contract, to explore the feasibility of a novel, high-performance autonomous glider for long-endurance, undersea surveillance. Their prototype glider, Sun Ray, built in collaboration with DST Group, dominated the marquee’s entrance. 2G Robotics nearby had their ULS-500 MICRO underwater laser scanner and stills imager on display.
Blue Zone Group was showing the Kailani Telemetry Buoy which implements seafloor to space communications for ocean floor instruments. The compact sea surface buoy package is just 460mm in diameter and weighs less than 25Kg making it ideal for deployment from small boats. Inside the buoy is a battery power supply providing a minimum of 30-days endurance with longer durations possible using on-board solar photovoltaic charging. Computing power in the KTB provides for communication with ocean floor instruments, reception and batching of data and transmission by either satellite or VHF radio link.
They also had on display, in conjunction with Hydroid, the REMUS 100 AUV – which can be configured to include a wide variety of standard or customer requested sensors and system options. REMUS 100 is small enough to be carried by two people, yet contains enough sophisticated sensor, navigation and power resources to perform intricate sonar and oceanographic surveys over large areas. It can be used for covert mine countermeasures detection and as a data relay system during up to 12 hour-long missions.
Boeing’s stand had a model of their Echo Voyager, a game changer in autonomous underwater vehicle strategy and operations. It is fully host ship independent, being able to swim from port and can be completely autonomous. With a 6,500 nautical mile range on one fuel module, it is capable of months of independent operation. It is huge, displacing over 45 tonnes, with an empty length overall of 15.5m which can extend to 25.9m with its payload envelope of 10.4m.
Boeing states that Echo Voyager is a platform capable of performing as a multi-mission system and playing a pivotal role in future force structure. The vehicle’s advanced autonomy allows it to operate for months at a time without physical human contact and in congested waters. Each Echo Voyager is complete with a generous internal and external payload volume and available energy capacity.
Its navigation system provides remarkable accuracy through use of inertial navigation, Doppler velocity logs and where placed seafloor long baseline transponders giving position accuracy to within 2.3m. GPS is available when operating on or near the surface. Unaided position accuracy is 0.15% of the distance travelled i.e. within 15km after a 1000km underwater voyage. Communications use encrypted Inmarsat IV, Iridium, Wi-Fi for C2 and system status when near the surface and acoustic communications during submerged operations down to its maximum depth of 3,000m.
Echo Voyager features an active buoyancy control system with forward and aft trim control as well as seafloor mooring capability. It has an active obstacle avoidance capability enabled by forward looking sonar and proven autonomous obstacle avoidance algorithms.
The DST stand featured the many areas of research they are involved in, as well as having a REMUS 600 on display. This unit follows on from DST’s experience with the highly successful REMUS 100 and is designed to operate to depths of 600 metres, with an optional configuration for 1500 metre depth, allowing for greatly increased operational scope. It has been designed with modularity in mind and can easily be reconfigured for a range of operator payloads.
REMUS 600 delivers unprecedented endurance, with mission duration capability of up to 24 hours. Upon mission completion simply recharge the internal battery, or swap out the battery section.
APDR moved on to HMAS Creswell’s sports field with AW18 hosts, CDR Paul Hornsby RAN and Prof Jason Scholz, head of Defence’s Trusted Autonomous Systems CRC. Numerous autonomous land vehicles were on display, most churning great chunks out of the sports ground surface. No doubt after our departure they might have been put to work tidying up the disturbed surface!
AOS Group were demonstrating their intelligent Watch Dog autonomous response system. Near them Brokk had their SR-120D-System drilling holes in the turf and also, after replacing the drill head with hydraulic jaws, showed it had the sensitivity to pick up an egg off a plastic container on the ground without breaking it, and then returning the egg and releasing it undamaged to the same spot. Chironix also were present with displays on their expertise with highly mobile robots.
EPE were hosting Armatrac from Cambridge UK with their Armatrac 20T Robot Mk 2 which can be configured for demining, unexploded ordnance clearance and counter-IED. APDR had the opportunity to stand alongside Steve Brown, Managing Director of Armtrac Ltd, as he was operating his robot. Steve gave APDR a memory stick containing videos of Armatrac in its various roles – hugely impressive. David Rye of EPE also explained to APDR the capabilities of their MESMER anti-drone system.
IAI Australia had two unmanned ground vehicles on display. Their LR-1 is a multi-purpose 4×4 infantry support system capable of carrying 300kg of payload. One demonstrator was walking around with the LR-1 following him like an obedient dog! But the biggest ground churner of the day was IAI’s LR-2 RoBattle, a 7-tonne monster capable of carrying up to 3 tonnes of payload. Its powertrain comprises a 6×6 individual wheel enabling skid steer. For AW18, the RoBattle combat support system was demonstrated in semi-autonomous mode, fitted with an electro-optical payload and an Australian EOS remote weapon station.
IAI state that RoBattle is a support robotic autonomous system for infantry forces offering advanced attack capabilities, combat ISTAR, area excitation and decoy actions, ambushes and attacks, together with forces and convoy protection in combat areas.
David Baird, founder and CEO of Praesidium Global, was delightful company for APDR as he demonstrated his Mission Adaptable Platform System (MAPS) built by himself. A six-wheel drive vehicle weighing 750Kg, it is capable of carrying a 750Kg payload. It is powered by a reliable lithium ion battery giving up to eight hours of operation. Its autonomous navigation with obstacle avoidance and “follow me” functionality is complemented by multiple control interface options. David explained MAPS is currently under trials and evaluation with the ADF.
Universal Field Robots demonstrated their Caterpillar mini excavator-based autonomous field robot, while the University of Sydney Centre for Field Robotics showed their Ground Hog.
Moving on to the Jervis Bay military airfield, the marquee had displays by 822X Squadron RAN (Maritime Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems) who had two of their in-service test vehicles, the Schiebel Camcopter S-100 and the Insitu Scan Eagle, on their stand. The Air Force Research Lab (USA) were there with the Supa Bat DA-50 UAV, while the Defence Technology Agency (NZ) was showing their Kahu UAV.
On the day APDR visited the airfield there was not much aerial activity going on, as most teams were getting their aircraft absolutely ready for the start of the Autonomy Strategic Challenge scenarios, due to start two days later and run for up to 10 days.
Defendtex was flying their Tempest multi-rotor UAV from the Jervis Bay wharf and also exhibiting their 40mm diameter Drone 40. Elbit Systems of Australia had their THOR multi-rotor UAS, and also their Skylark® I-LEX high performance man-portable mini UAS at the airfield. JAR Aerospace had a small portable UAS built by Lachlan Burke.
Kratos Defence Australia, based at HMAS Albatross Aviation Technology Park, had displays describing their aerial target systems, autonomous ground vehicle solutions, and training systems.
One UAS that did catch APDR’s eye was the Silvertone Flamingo® Mk 3 RPAS. It is designed for a range of military and civil applications. Travis Downie of Silvertone explained that the Flamingo® Mk 3 is fully autonomous from take-off to landing. It is capable of carrying a 5.5Kg payload in the nose cone or 2Kg under each wing. ISR packages consist of a stabilised gimbal with EO/IR sensors and high bandwidth radio link capable of coverage out to 100Km.
But what really caught APDR’s attention was the Silvertone managed project “Forward Eyes” designed to demonstrate a special capability of the Flamingo® Mk 3 and Cistech Solutions sensor suite, including a radio mesh network, as a covert intelligence gathering, communications management and mission management solution.
SUPPORT SYSTEMS AND NON-PLATFORM TECHNOLOGIES
Spread around marquees at the three demonstration areas were a wide range of technology systems which could support autonomous operations in the maritime, land, air and cyber domains.
Amber Technology were showing a range of tactical data link systems from Silvius Technologies, including high data rate line of sight ship-to-ship data systems deployed on ANZAC frigates as part of SEA 1442. Boeing had their electronic support automated communications measures on display, which are capable of unclassified passive communications intercept, integrated situational awareness displays and automated signal processing. They also had Insitu’s common open-mission management C2 on their stand. Their Digital Receiver Technology subsidiary was showing its multi-domain sensor kit.
Cisco, who had provided $2m worth of ICT gear to AW18 was located in the waterfront marquee, near Chironix who had a novel concept on display, effectively all of the capabilities of an ambulance contained within a small portable package. Deakin University IISRI had a full-size RAIDER wooden combined arms live fire training system out at the airfield. Defcon were showing Trellisware Technologies TW-950 TSM Shadow with TSM-X waveform in use by several exhibitors.
The UK’s Dstl provided the MAPLE system for C2 of unmanned vehicles, developed with partners BAE Systems, Seebyte, Thales and QinetiQ.
Nearby was Insitec showing their Australian MINERVA system tailored to support the ADF’s tactical joint, autonomous and unmanned enterprise. James Tewes of Insitec gave APDR a demonstration of how MINERVA was giving a common picture of all platforms which were currently in operation at AW18.It leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning for situational awareness and decision making. Their partners were Systematic (Sitaware C2), Hyland (OnBase workflow management and content storage) and Trellis Data (ISR, machine learning, social media analysis).
APDR discussed the full-size Wave Glider USV on L3 Oceania’s stand with Scott Elson as well as their acoustic/satcom gateway product providing a communications link between above water mobile phone and satcom users with underwater users or platforms.
Probably one of the stars of IDE for APDR was the Leidos data analysis derived from a live feed being received via a communications link from the Gulf of Mexico 7,815 nautical miles away where their autonomous research vessel Pathfinder was conducting a scan of the sea bed.
Neil Mahony had a static display of his Wing Ray ground effect UAV. Ocean Software was showing its UAS Workforce and Asset Management systems, while Zone Advanced Protection Systems had their actual DRONEBUSTER weapon on display – just point and shoot!
Out at the airfield one of the most spectacular sights was Ocular Robotics’ RobotEye EO and LWIR high performance sensing systems. These can be fitted to vehicles at sea, on land or in the air. The detection speed of even the slightest movement was very impressive.
During a discussion with Troy Stephen, underwater systems director at Thales, APDR took the opportunity to catch up on their various defence projects, including those on display in a range of autonomous vehicles on display or being demonstrated at AW18. He told APDR that the transition to unmanned systems is complex and creates challenges for all navies, not just the RAN where his group is strongly involved. He said that fields like autonomy are advancing at a rapid pace, driven by the new possibilities of disruptive technologies.
AW18 was the largest event of its type in the world to date. While it could have been possible for the organisers to concentrate on government organisation capabilities within the Five Eyes community, the fact that they opened the event to the wider defence industry speaks volumes for the growing partnership between industry, academia, defence forces and their research establishments.
Although the next event of this type to be run by the Five Eyes community was not revealed during AW18, it seems certain that industry participants would have gained a lot in their participation by seeing potential partners and also revealing their capabilities to Defence, which could well result in further innovation funding.
APDR will follow with interest feedback it receives from those participating and also any subsequent unclassified report by the event’s organisers.