UGVS: THE WHAT, THE WHY, AND THE HOW
Geopolitics|May 2021
Given the deteriorating security landscape in the neighbourhood, India must fast forward the development of autonomous weapons that can be force multipliers for the nation’s armed forces, writes COL. ANDREW FERNANDES (RETD)
Unmanned Ground Vehicles have been of interest to man and especially to the realms of defence for years. UGVs in the form of robots were part of science fiction and fantasy in bygone years but, with the advancement of technology, as in other spheres, they have become a part of reality. The use of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) in defence has been steadily expanding and military organisations across the globe are experimenting with their use in an effort to understand what exactly such systems can offer and how they can be best integrated in the current force structures. In India also, their use has been considered and is being actively sought by the Armed Forces. This subject is intended to be covered in the following manner:

• The WHAT – What are UGVs?

• The WHY – Why do we need them or to simplify, what are its applications?

• The HOW – How should we as a Nation address the issue of procuring/developing UGVs?

The WHAT

An unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) is a vehicle that operates while in contact with the ground and is the land-based counterpart to unmanned aerial vehicles and remotely operated underwater vehicles. UGVs can be used for many applications where it may be inconvenient, dangerous, or impossible to have a human operator present. These vehicles have a set of sensors to observe the environment. Thereafter there are two options, either the vehicle can take actions on its own, implying that it is Autonomous in nature, or pass the information to a human operator at a different location who will control the vehicle through teleoperation.

It would be pertinent to mention here that unlike an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, which operates in clear skies and hence may be easier to operate autonomously, in the case of ground vehicles and the clutter around it, the level of AI (Artificial Intelligence) required would be very high to enable true autonomous decision-making capability. However, keeping in view advancements in technology, it is not a dream anymore but more akin to reality.

Without getting into technicalities, it would be prudent to understand how a UGV works. A UGV is basically a vehicle, preferably an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV), considering the tasks it may be expected to perform. The size of the vehicle would be determined by the intended task(s). The vehicle would need to be retrofitted to cater for the following:

Actuation. Computer-controlled actuators for the various mobility components such as throttle, brake and steering system.

Computers. For computing and controlling the various functions and components.

Sensors. This could include but not limited to cameras, laser range finders, proximity sensors, radars and the like.

Position estimation and Guidance System. This could include either or both Inertial Navigation System and /or GPS (Global Positioning System).

Communications. This would be for communicating with other vehicles or a ground station. In addition there would be a requirement to communicate within the various components of the UGV.

It must be understood that the UGV is basically a large collection of modules and components for sensing, perceiving, assimilating, planning and control to achieve the desired ends. These components/modules communicate differently to and with each other. Hence at the outset it is necessary that the user lays down his priorities and the task(s) that the UGV is intended to perform as so that the UGV is developed into a coherent integrated system for with the requisite modularity to complete the complex missions it is intended to be used for.

As mentioned earlier, UGVs are classified into two broad types, remotely operated and autonomous. Autonomous unmanned ground vehicles comprise several technologies that allow the machine to be self-acting and self-regulating, sans human intervention. The technology was initially developed to aid ground forces in the transfer of heavy equipment. However, the technology has witnessed significant evolution over the years, giving rise to more tactical vehicles designed to assist in surveillance or IED search-and-destroy missions.

UGVs possess several benefits in terms of their size and affordability, in addition to high survivability, which makes them ideal for defense applications across the globe, as security threats continue to become increasingly more unconventional. Nations worldwide, including the US, UK, Estonia, and Russia, are becoming more aware of the merits of UGVs as combat vehicles and force enablers. A range of UGVs are being developed, from the robotic combat vehicle by Textron, to the TheMIS UGV by Milrem, to Russia’s Uran-9 unmanned ground vehicle. Even India has developed its own vehicle Daksh. Available in different sizes and configurations, unmanned ground combat vehicles can cater to diverse missions and fulfill many roles, taking a step closer to the seamless integration of ground forces and unmanned systems.

While a fully autonomous vehicle would be most desirable, the complexities involved for the likely missions to be performed, may in the short term, necessitate using a controlled vehicle with the ultimate aim of finally developing a completely autonomous vehicle. For logistic missions on roads and tracks or in non-combat roles, it may be possible to develop an autonomous vehicle sooner.

The WHY

UGVs have demonstrated an increasing number of strengths in serving well today’s as also future battlefields. To coin a phrase oft-touted in Indian media, they are and will truly be Force Multipliers, especially in the asymmetric conflict prevalent world over and specifically in India. It’s major strengths are

Deployability in different types of missions, be they dangerous, dull, difficult or dirty.

Reduces risks to troops.

Can be utilized prior to launching troops to reduce and neutralize threats, thereby contributing to force protection Developments in the Unmanned

Ground Vehicles systems technology will transform military force structures and tactics, especially with the integration of combat unmanned ground vehicles and the associated changes in land operations.

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