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Unmanned ground vehicles driving Army toward the future

Unmanned ground vehicles
Cpl Aaron Le Jeune from the 9th Force Support Battalion trials an unmanned ground vehicle during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2019 at Shoalwater Bay Training Area (Source: Dept of Defence)

The growing proliferation and capability of unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) are transforming the way Army conducts a range of operations, with logistics and supply chain support set to benefit from increased Army proficiency and acceptance of the unique platforms.

The growing proliferation and capability of unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) are transforming the way Army conducts a range of operations, with logistics and supply chain support set to benefit from increased Army proficiency and acceptance of the unique platforms.

Australian Defence Force Academy cadets could be saying goodbye to forearm-burning store carries thanks to the arrival of two unmanned ground vehicles in August – the Mk6 unmanned ground vehicles were transferred to the academy after being tested at Talisman Sabre 2019.

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The unmanned ground vehicles, also known as mules, are remote-controlled six-wheeled vehicles capable of carrying up to 600 kilograms. The mules were received by the Future of War VECC, an extracurricular club to facilitate discussion about technology’s impact on war.

These platforms can be configured into several specialist roles through the use of hydraulic crane arm attachments, a surveillance module and combat litters for the carriage of wounded soldiers.

VECC vice president Hugo McMeeken said cadets didn’t often get hands-on experience with advanced technologies, "We always hear about how technological development is impacting war fighting. To have this initial exposure will be incredibly helpful for us."

ADFA Cadets will restore the vehicles to a serviceable state, with engineering students working on the platforms as part of their extra-curricular activities.

Major Ash Crosby, of Emerging Technology in the Robotics & Autonomous Systems Implementation & Coordination Office, said the vehicles had been transferred to different groups. 

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"We don’t want to do the experimentation and just dispose of the units once the activity period is finished, especially when they can continue to offer value to the ADF. Two Mk6 platforms were given to ADFA and four Mk7 UGV platforms were delivered to Defence Science and Technology groups in Adelaide and Melbourne," MAJ Crosby explained. 

Lieutenant Patrick Mueller, a 9th Force Support Battalion (9FSB) workshop platoon commander, said of the MULE platforms during Talisman Sabre 2019, that the UGV's helped reduce manual labour requirements: "Coming up with how we were going to incorporate them into our daily routine was hard initially, but the more we used it, the more we found ways to integrate it.

"We started using them for things like daily replenishment, so water, food and rubbish runs into a central point … one of the operators took to using them to haul cabling around the position to do electrical runs. Other ideas that were floated including using them to carry ammunition to forward defensive pits, as well as carrying defensive stores – wiring, sandbags – which is a difficult task with a small amount of people."

Initially pitched as a way to manoeuvre casualties and cargo around the battlefield, soldiers have used the vehicles for tasks such as carriage of electrical cabling or defensive stores.

Soldier feedback has been used to inform potential future development and acquisition of unmanned ground vehicles within land programs.

Exercise Talisman Sabre '19 (TS19) is a bilateral combined Australian and US training activity. TS19 is designed to practice respective military services and associated agencies in planning and conducting Combined and Joint Task Force operations, and improve the combat readiness and interoperability between Australian and US forces.

Occurring every two years, Talisman Sabre is a major exercise reflecting the closeness of the alliance and strength of the enduring military relationship. TS19 is the eighth iteration of the exercise and consists of a Field Training Exercise incorporating force preparation (logistic) activities, amphibious landings, land force manoeuvre, urban operations, air operations, maritime operations and Special Forces activities.

Unmanned ground vehicles driving Army toward the future
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