In 2019, a team of BAE Systems Australia Red Ochre LABS engineers began converting M113AS4 Armoured Personnel Carriers to operate Optionally Crewed – a significant milestone in the exploration of autonomous capabilities on the future battlefield.
The fleet of M113AS4 Optionally Crewed Combat Vehicles (OCCV) is being used by the Australian Army’s Robotic & Autonomous Systems Implementation & Coordination Office (RICO) to better understand opportunities to employ autonomy on the battlefield and implement its Robotics and Autonomous Systems Strategy.
Today, our engineers are taking this to the next level, working with artificial intelligence and machine understanding to explore a higher level of autonomous capability: trusted autonomy. As we mature the development of these trusted systems the OCCVs are an ideal test platform for BAE Systems Australia and Army to advance its Robotics and Autonomous Systems Strategy even further.
We sat down with Timothy, Lead Autonomy Engineer, BAE Systems Australia to learn more about Australia’s sovereign autonomous capability and how machine understanding will improve decision making for future service men and women.
“Trusted autonomy is when artificial intelligence and teaming enable the platform to make reliable and responsible decisions, taking into account the environment around them and objectives and intent of the operator.
“To move towards a trusted autonomous solution there needs to be a significant leap in the underlying technology.
“Simply put, this shift means that the vehicles will operate to achieve goal-based missions set by the operator, using machine understanding to autonomously break down high-level objectives into lower level tasks to deliver the mission.
“What is exciting is the ability for human operators to make informed decisions quickly, with large amounts of information processed autonomously and decisions that can be reliably made by the system deferred from the operator.
“Ultimately, this next generation of trusted autonomous solution will reduce cognitive burden, allowing the soldier to operate at a higher level.”
Timothy shares a simple scenario to explore some of the ways trusted autonomous systems might change the battlefield.
Move supplies from a rear logistics node to a tactical equipment collection point.
The operator assigns the mission goal, to move the materiel to the front.
The system uses AI to determine which vehicle is best placed to realise the goal while considering the optimal path, taking into consideration competing objectives including terrain and known threats. The suggested mission plan is shared back to the operator to approve.
As the vehicle executes the plan, the system constantly refines routes and reacts to new information. The machine understanding algorithm detects an unexpected threat along the planned route, and an updated mission plan is automatically generated to keep a safe distance and maximise mission success. Once the munitions are delivered, the vehicle is reassigned by the system to perform its next mission. In this scenario, the autonomous system exponentially increases the safety and survivability of the mission by removing soldiers from the battlefield and increasing the information available to improve decision-making.
Partnering with academia
BAE Systems Australia is collaborating with the University of Adelaide, world leaders in machine learning; the University of Melbourne, world leaders in decision-making and planning; and the Defence Science and Technology Group, experts in trusted autonomy and signature management, to develop the next generation of autonomous capability.
“Building bridges between academia and industry will allow us to leverage the cutting-edge technologies they are developing, while growing Australia’s skilled workforce and contributing to sovereign capability.
“Our role is to bring together this world-leading research, acting as systems integrators to deploy this technology onto vehicles to demonstrate the technology.
“I’ve always been interested in Autonomy, and if I can utilise that interest to benefit Defence and our country then I want to do that,” says Timothy.
BAE Systems Australia has a long history developing autonomous capabilities. Learn more about our investment in advancing Australia’s sovereign autonomous capability.