Australia has just hosted, from 5 to 23 November, the first autonomous exercise conducted by western allies involving all four domains – air, maritime (surface, sub-surface), ground and cyber/artificial intelligence. Building on the success of UK’s ‘Unmanned Warrior 2016, Australia’s ‘Autonomous Warrior 2018’ (AW18) was the largest activity of its kind ever conducted by the Five Eyes countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States) with 500+ personnel directly involved each day. It featured almost 50 companies who displayed 77 platforms. 26 Australian and international participants provided live demonstrations of their technologies. These included 14 sea surface vehicles, 3 underwater vehicles, 8 ground vehicles and 13 air vehicles.
AW18 consisted of three different activities:
- An Industry Dynamic Exhibition (IDE), providing an opportunity for Australian industry to showcase its technology, ingenuity and capacity for integration with other systems. This was attended by APDR in the second week during a VIP day;
- An Autonomy Strategic Challenge (ASC) “Wizard of Aus” (WoA) event, the fifth and final scientific trial in the TTCP ASC series. This was held during the third week; and
- Navy and Army using in-service semi-autonomous and unmanned assets.
Minister for Defence, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, said the Autonomous Warrior event positions Australia at the forefront of emerging technologies. “Autonomous systems will continue to increase in prevalence for military applications and Australia is a leader in developing unmanned systems.
“Industry, defence science organisations and militaries from five countries are examining air, land, sea and cyber systems and their potential for use in complex and contested environments.
“The trials and demonstrations will provide Defence a clearer picture of the future of robotic and autonomous systems and how we might use them to remove people from harm’s way, or multiply our effectiveness, with intelligent systems.
“Activities across air, land and sea domains will explore our ability to control multiple unmanned and autonomous systems concurrently to deliver a warfighting effect.
“Autonomous systems will be fully integrated in our future fleet and Autonomous Warrior 2018 is an opportunity to inform our future projects that will deliver an enduring capability.”
The overall exercise was jointly planned and managed by Commander Paul Hornsby RAN who was Navy Lead, and Professor Jason Scholz, DST Lead for Trusted Autonomous Systems.
APDR attended the exercise briefing by CDR Hornsby and Prof Scholz, before they took our five strong media party on a full-day tour involving the Geelong building (cyber and AI software systems), the waterfront (maritime surface and sub-surface technologies, non-platform systems), the sports ground (land vehicles) and finally the Jervis Bay military airfield (aircraft).
Leading the introductory briefing, CDR Hornsby explained that lead-in trials conducted mid-year 2018 at Jervis Bay have already achieved world firsts by operating multiple vehicles in all domains concurrently on one system.
AW18 is the first time applying autonomous systems to sequenced scenarios has occurred. He said “While one of the most technologically complex operations, it is highly serialised and will inform applicable authorities of future rules. It will test systems in more challenging warfare conditions including denied, degraded, intermittent and limited (DDIL) communications environments, and against red cell elements.”
CDR Hornsby went on to position this exercise as being the first of its kind being conducted in Australian environmental conditions, statistically the most demanding in the world.
He noted that this Autonomy Strategic Challenge component of AW18 has integrated nine major Five Eyes component technologies in the two years since Unmanned Warrior 2016.
Major benefits will come from assessment by the new Defence Innovation Hub, which has been sponsoring defence industry, as well as informing Navy, Army and Air Force strategic planning and tactics.
In his view “It should confirm the clear benefits that robotic and autonomous systems have over putting people in harm’s way, whether dangerous, too concentrated, too toxic or beyond reasonable human endurance (i.e. dangerous, non-distributed, dirty, dull or too deep).”
AW18 AIMS AND BASIC CONSIDERATIONS
The introductory briefing explained that AW18 has five main aims:
- Military – Determine operational utility of autonomous technologies and artificial intelligence.
- Military Strategic – Support and improve interoperability of emerging Five Eyes autonomous systems.
- Scientific – Demonstrate human-autonomy teaming concepts via trials and simulation.
- Industry – Promote Australian based industry and innovation, including academic capacity.
- Civilian Strategic – Promote the value and control of autonomous systems to the broader public.
These aims are being pursued in the context of some basic considerations.
Firstly, that Australia can never have enough autonomous assets because we have a small population inhabiting a very large country. Secondly, to have winning systems we need to gain other peoples trust, including shared risk. Thirdly, autonomous systems are being studied to enhance rather than replace the major platforms the ADF already has like ships, army vehicles and aircraft. Fourthly, there will be a continued emphasis on seeking synergies, particularly between maritime, land, air, space and cyber domains.
The belief is that by caring about these studies of autonomous systems, winning combinations can be found.
AUTONOMY STRATEGIC CHALLENGE
AW18 is a unique activity supporting the Five Eyes Community’s ‘The Technical Cooperation Program’ (TTCP) integration of industry UxV platforms in a military exercise. In this context UxV covers UUV (unmanned underwater vehicles), USV (unmanned maritime surface vehicles), UGV (unmanned ground vehicles) and UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles).
From 5-13 November the focus was on getting the various parties established in their locations and working on interoperability. From 14 -23 November the ASC exercise proper was under way using a series of scenarios on successive days.
CDR Hornsby gave three illustrative examples:
- Littoral Force Protection – Base Protection – employing air, land, sea surface, underwater vehicles where autonomy was exercised to reduce deployed operators, control more UxVs, and shorten response times.
- Littoral Interdiction – Counter Smuggling – employing air, sea surface and underwater vehicles where autonomy enables a new capability to address underwater threats.
- Littoral Underwater Area Denial – Critical Infrastructure Protection – employing air, sea surface and underwater vehicles where autonomy lowers exposure of military personnel to risks and is less resource intensive.
ASC EXPECTED OUTCOMES
Professor Jason Scholz then took over the preliminary briefing and started by explaining the four expected outcomes of ASC’s part of AW18. These were Force Multiplication, greater Decision Agility, Integration of Five Eyes autonomy and improved Interoperability Architecture.
The intention of force multiplication is to allow a single operator to manage a large fleet of drones in a littoral dynamic threat environment. He provided three examples of current command and control (C2) technology for drones. Navy requires nine humans for C2 of one underwater vehicle tethered at a distance of less than one kilometre. Army requires one human for one machine. Air Force requires four humans to control one machine.
He provided the vision of one human to provide C2 for 10+ machines, claiming this has been performed in many other programs.
Prof Scholz described C2 as the achievement of military intent, using available capabilities and given situational awareness.
He went on to describe the current state of maturity of C2 for autonomous systems in service today as being where humans provide command intent, planning and piloting capabilities, and situational awareness. He considered present levels of integration and machine systems as having very little maturity.
He then looked forward to 2035 and what he described as “Ubiquitous C2”, by which he meant a similar and significant C2 capability on every platform, to achieve mass-scale manoeuvre and robustness.
Prof Scholz divided command and control autonomy into “C2” autonomy which considered scenarios and situations from the point-of-view of humans, integration and machine, and “Platform” autonomy which considered objects and signals in these same three categories. Both C2 and Platform autonomy objectives were then analysed by him for priorities and pathways to achievable maturity.
THE ALLIED IMPACT (AIM) C2 TESTBED
At AW18 defence scientists were assessing the control and operation of multiple vehicles by a single operator using the advanced AIM C2 system.
Prof Scholz described the AIM C2 testbed as researching Intelligent Aiding, Play Calling, Intuitive Human/Machine Interface, and Task Management. These areas are being developed using eight component technologies, with four Five Eye’s countries being responsible for their development. The listing which follows is not in any priority order:
- COMPACT: Policy Management and Negotiation (United Kingdom)
- Narrative: Interactive News and Explanation (Australia)
- Authority Pathway: Effects, Employment (Canada)
- CBBA: Distributed Dynamic Plans (United States)
- Recommender: Intelligent Courses of Action Analysis (Australia)
- DARRT: Human-Autonomy Monitoring and Evaluation (Australia)
- New Tech Explorations: Cyber displays, Provenance of decision origins (United States)
- MAPLE: Information Architecture (United Kingdom)
Prof Scholz then went on to explain in more detail the importance of MAPLE, whose first version was used at the UK’s ‘Unmanned Warrior’ exercise in November 2016. The version used at AW18 had significantly greater capability and was used to control a swarm of interoperable UxVs through common exploitation and sharing of collected data, and also to provide mission planning and conduct data.
According to Australia’s DST Group ‘AW18 is about control of unmanned systems, the integration of control technologies and a demonstration of its application to ADF scenarios.
‘The integration of a unique combination of air, land, sea and underwater S&T technologies from the five TTCP nations is a key goal of AW18.
‘Success will be measured by how well in-service systems from the five nations and those developed by different industry participants can be controlled by individuals and small teams to enhance Defence’s capacity. In other words, showcasing the end-to-end command and control of multiple remote vehicles in a dynamic threat littoral environment.
‘Another key aim was to engage and spur industry development of autonomous systems that are fit for Defence purposes. Current military operational agility within and across the five nations is constrained by proprietary industry interfaces and systems.
‘AW18 will see improvements in the cohesion and automation of operations with respect to autonomous systems. It is expected that all uninhabited platforms participating in the Wizard of Aus TTCP event will be integrated through digital command and control, aiming to achieve improved coordination.
‘By improving the autonomy and integration of C2 systems and uninhabited autonomous platforms, our Defence force will achieve:
- Force Multiplication – small teams of human operators controlling a large unmanned fleet in a dynamic threat environment.
- An interoperability architecture for autonomous systems and C2 – providing guidelines for industry innovation and avoid Defence exposure to proprietary lock-in.
- Integration of autonomy technologies between the five nations for faster and more informed decisions that provide enhanced mutual reliance, thus saving on national development costs.
- Agility by merging tactical and operational control for faster military decision cycles.’