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back to article Robowagons roll! US Army tests all-drone supply unit

The US Army has successfully completed tests of a convoy delivery system made entirely of unmanned vehicles. The Army, along with Lockheed Martin, performed tests at the Fort Hood base in Texas earlier this month. The test pitted a caravan of vehicles against a series of obstacles designed to simulate an urban environment. …

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Silver badge

Slight flaw in the plan

So somebody plants a bomb, rolls a rock into the road and stops one of these nicking the food, ammo, supplies it is carrying

You send out a crane and transporter to pick it up along with a squad of specialist mechanics.

The bad guys ambush them

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Re: Slight flaw in the plan

"... stops one of these nicking the food ..."

A BigDog jumps out of each vehicle and they proceed to savage the attackers; slowly but surely.

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Silver badge

Re: Slight flaw in the plan

Perhaps they'll have a self-destruct mechanism for just such an event. Did anyone say they wouldn't be armed?

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You wouldn't have stop the caravan.

Since they are drones, and presumably un-manned, what happened in the past will happen again.

Back in the bad old days in Vietnam, the locals/bad guys would try to get onto any truck and off-load the cargo without stopping the truck. There were guards on the truck who ended up using their rifles like clubs to swat the baddies off the trucks.

So presumably, they will have to put armed guards on those drones?

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Black Helicopters

Re: You wouldn't have stop the caravan.

These days, the armed guards could be a pair of Apaches on overwatch.

Another thought, a mixed convoy of meatsack drivers and robowagons, to minimise the number of troops exposed to threat, but still have people on the ground if needed.

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Silver badge

Re: You wouldn't have stop the caravan.

You can't shoot at your own convoys from a helicopter. Not only are the chances of terrible accidents far too great (air to ground fire is hideously inaccurate, that's why we give aircraft such big guns :).

Plus, you never want to create a situation where a handful of enemy soldiers/troops/zealots can result in your own convoy being shot up by your own (asset). Situations like that historically become tests of bravery, criminal sentences and civilian extortion tactics (run out there and make them shoot at you or your child/wife/mother gets it). The negative press alone would be a nightmare.

The poster above is correct, convoys without ground support were already proven to be a nightmare in the past. That's why we send so many troops on supply/logistics missions today.

Honestly, this seems like another expensive complication to a very simple situation. If you take a look at most post WWII Western military strategies and tactics, you can plainly see the rise in technology and 'designer' tactics dreamt up in a classroom and how it rises in direct proportion to the cost of the campaigns and how fewer and fewer of the initial campaign goals are met.

The technological commercialization of warfare,and the introduction of complex, 'process based' academic strategies that require things to happen in a very specific order has been fairly disastrous. The entire concept of a 'thinking mans' war has always been epically stupid. Behavioral science falls down instantly and completely when you blow up someone's house with their family inside: All bets are off.

For thousands and thousands of years, the first thing soldiers destined for leadership were taught was that plans, superior weaponry and expectations are nothing more than peacetime tools to remind soldiers what their job really was. None of that stuff mattered, at all, once the first rock, spear, arrow, cannonball, bullet, rocket or missile was fired.

A modern US soldier, who signs up for a 2nd enlistment, has had more than $1m spent on his equipment and training him to use it. They still die in droves fighting goat herders using weapons made in countries that don't even exist anymore and explosives a chemistry graduate could better. Almost none of the large scale Western military actions in the last 70 years have been able to meet their original goals. The goals are changed to (something) and a victory retreat made ready.

No amount of technology will ever allow a military force to take and hold enemy territory if thousands of years of military common sense is ignored. You know, things like don't send endless supply convoys into enemy held territory that you've been fighting, unsuccessfully, to take for 10+ years. It's a pretty good bet they know you're coming, and that you'll obey the fucking traffic signs on the way: 'Uncle Sam Brakes for Insurgents' bumper stickers should be on every US military vehicle.

Sorry for the rant, it just pisses me off that we throw our soldiers (citizens) into war zones and actively undermine them by ignoring things paid for with millions and millions of lives. The recipes for successful war and successful business haven't changed in many millennia. War is pretty stupid, but if you're going to do it, go with what works and just do it. If you're a bit squeamish about the people dying in large quantities bit, maybe war isn't the path you should be on.

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Silver badge

Re: You wouldn't have stop the caravan.

Sorry for the rant, it just pisses me off that we throw our soldiers (citizens) into war zones and actively undermine them by ignoring things paid for with millions and millions of lives. The recipes for successful war and successful business haven't changed in many millennia. War is pretty stupid, but if you're going to do it, go with what works and just do it. If you're a bit squeamish about the people dying in large quantities bit, maybe war isn't the path you should be on.

That's assuming you HAVE an alternative. If your opposition considers MAD a winning scenario AND loves to hide among noncombatants, how do you take them out without making new enemies along the way?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You wouldn't have stop the caravan.

The way that works is the Old Testament approach of smiting the other guy, or the Egyptian pharaohs paying the weight in gold of right hands cut from the enemy (how many unarmed farmers lost hands in the invades lands do you think? do you think they had an insurgency problem when the pharaohs army was let loose?) or the Roman army way. Somehow we think we can make a civilised war and expect the other guy to treat the whole think like a soccer game and give up gracefully when we invade and drop bombs. It would not be our style to turn the other cheek of the shoe was on the other foot. So yes this robot truck think is just a load of rubbish to allow tens of billions of dollars be spent doing something utterly futile. It's great business and it counters the political problem of dead citizens from ieds (you can just fire a hellfire at trucks that we disabled that your don't want to go in and get due to ambush and extensive secondary ieds) but it doesn't solve the problem that our modern way of war only works between first world countries who agree to treat it like a soccer game.

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Joke

We got ourselves a convoy?

"Breaker 1 9, this here's the Robot Duck"?

Doesn't quite have the same ring to it...

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Terminator

Or just

put in a gun mount containing a couple of M2 machine guns, and load the suitable software into the drone to aim and control them.

Stir in a couple of reaper drones for overwatch and wheres your problem?

The supplies get from A to B and eliminate anyone silly enough to attack said convoy.

Then we can add extra AI to them so they can respond to a blocked road/ambush/car crash correctly

And all die horribly when the AI becomes self-aware at 2.37 am 2037 and infects every computer on the planet..........

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Re: Or just

Well, they're still drones, i.e. remote piloted by a human, not robots, but it's a sound plan.

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Silver badge

Re: Or just @vociferous

You're kind of correct. It is considerably more accurate to say: 'military drones have the capability to be piloted by humans'.

Engagement commands are always approved by a Human operator, but actually piloting them is almost always hands off with the drone flying autopilot until you want to kill/explode something.

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Re: Or just @vociferous

Really? My understanding was that they're much like a commercial airliner: on automatic control during the long boring bits, but under human control when it get interesting.

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Bronze badge

US Army in Germany already used these.

Okay they had human drivers but locals swore that they had to give US Army trucks a wide berth on the autobahn because the drivers were, likely as not, stoned.

Perhaps not as scary as my dad's story that, immediately post-war, British or American cars were occasionally barged off the road by nazi-sympathising truckers.

May explain why the British military were so keen to get Volkswagen production back up and running to use Beetles as staff cars.

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Coat

Autonomous mobility applique system?

It won't be a patch on a manned convoy

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Coat

Re: Autonomous mobility applique system?

I sew what you did there!

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$100 of electronics spraying white noise all over the RF range.

Job done.

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Nice one Uncle Sam!

Somehow I am sure if any naysayer tried to hijack any of these units then a very unpleasant surprise might take over those individuals.

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Pirate

Buy shares in Military Supply companeys

Jihadist / insurgents with RPG + loads of reloads take out the vehicle wheels convoy is stopped until its repaired

others scatter loads of IED devices to hinder the repair/recovery

think the convoy owner ( US military )would abandon the convoy as the cost of recovery in $$$ and lives outweighs the risk.

Jihadist loot convoy end result is US military feed and supply the Jihadist / insurgents

The Future of Your US TAX payer Dollar

icon indicates IED Minefield ahead

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Buy shares in Military Supply companeys

Very well said. Any war which is in the insurgency stage for more than the last phase of "we were knocking out their industrial base after a conventional war of equals just before we all sued for peace and got out" is a lost war. Throwing in robot trucks is just big business keeping the money flowing after the war is unwinable because any insurgency war is not the sort we can actually win.

The only type of war of occupation anyone can win having invaded a none industrialized nation is an Old Testament approach of smiting the other guy, or the Egyptian pharaohs paying the weight in gold of right hands cut from the enemy (How many unarmed farmers lost hands to the Egyptian arm do you think? Do you think they had an insurgency problem when the pharaohs army was let loose?) or the Roman army way.

Somehow we think we can make a civilised war and expect the other guy to treat the whole think like a soccer game and give up gracefully when we invade and drop bombs. It would not be our style to turn the other cheek of the shoe was on the other foot. So yes this robot truck think is just a load of rubbish to allow tens of billions of dollars be spent doing something utterly futile.

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Silver badge

You could sacrifice some of the laden weight to reinforcing the cargo compartment. Then put lots of guns on it and hook them up to xbox live.

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Anonymous Coward

Seems pretty pointless

if you're going for delivering supplies these days, why not just load up a B52 with drone control kit? You get a 32-tonne-a-time delivery, no human casualties if it gets shot down, and it doesn't worry about terrain as /it's a fucking aircraft/.

Strap the supplies to a BigDog or two- even one under local control by a 'handler'- and you could drop off supplies to people incredibly quickly and without limiting mobility too far.

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Silver badge

Re: Seems pretty pointless

Reach, perhaps? Suppose there isn't a friendly airfield nearby? And B-52s are too big to take off from carriers, which is why they're exclusive to the Air Force. Plus there's the matter of the fuel costs. Ground transport almost always uses less fuel than an airdrop.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Seems pretty pointless

Trucks are cheap. B52s cost a lot. They fly high and fast. There are not a lot of operational B52s compared to trash hauling supply planes. Dropping robot dogs from high and fast to get bulk goods into an outpost is not sounding like a good spend of money compared to running a big helicopter. The arm has a load of big helicopters and those run supplies to places they can it get the trunks. So why don't they just use helicopters everywhere? Because you get way more stuff moved with trunks than helicopters for the same money - upgrading them to be robot trunks just factors in the costs of injured soldiers into the true costs of running trunks. As states else where you still loose the war only a bit more slowly if it's an insurgency war as those are unwinable over any significant period. Still from the bean counters point of view trunks are just great value for money. If no one died driving them then it's a political win also even if it just prolongs loosing the war you cannot win.

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Bronze badge

Here's the my take on the why and huh?

Logistics and supplies are what let's an army do its thing. You cut the supply lines and that army is quickly just so many targets or prisoners of war. Every general worth his pay since the Babylonians(?) or before that, knows that. The Germans had that lesson handed to them on a silver platter at the Battle of the Bulge. The Allies took out their supply lines and that was that.

So, we have rear echelon brass who's careers are about to be cut short by a shrinking military when the US pulls out of Afgahanistan. One of them suddenly hits on the stroke of genius about supply vehicles.. maybe Google called, who knows, but logic now dictates that survival of the bureaucracy is paramount. So... we now some REMF's thinking they can save their jobs and be heroes. The only problem is outlined above by myself and Don, Dorsetknob, etc.

The enemy isn't stupid. If they were stupid they would be going muzzle to muzzle with the US, Brits, etc. Instead, they attack the supply convoys, injure not kill with IED's (lesson they learned from the VC) and generally make the front line guys life miserable while attacking the "rear".

So.. go ahead. Create some fuel trucks, arm them with remote turrets.. have air cover. There's one helluva fireball waiting to happen.

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Bronze badge

I know Fort Hood, Senator and frankly

Having been stationed there a few decades ago, I'm trying to imagine a convoy of robotrucks bucking main gate traffic at 0730 on any weekday.

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