Robert Clark is a post-graduate researcher at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, and is a British military veteran. His specialities include UK foreign policy in Asia Pacific and UK defence relations. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
Title: An Assessment of the Role of Unmanned Ground Vehicles in Future Warfare
Date Originally Written: February 17, 2019.
Date Originally Published: February 25, 2019.
Summary: The British Army’s recent land trials of the Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry System of Unmanned Ground Vehicles, seeks to ensure that the British Army retains its lethality in upcoming short to medium level intensity conflicts. These trials align with the announcements by both the British Army’s Chief of General Staff, General Carleton-Smith, and by the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, regarding the evolving character of warfare.
Text: The United Kingdom’s (UK) current vision for the future role of Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) originates from the British Army’s “Strike Brigade” concept, as outlined in the Strategic Defence Security Review 2015. This review proposed that British ground forces should be capable of self-deployment and self-sustainment at long distances, potentially global in scope. According to this review, by 2025 the UK should be able to deploy “a war-fighting division optimised for high intensity combat operations;” indeed, “the division will draw on two armoured infantry brigades and two new Strike Brigades to deliver a deployed division of three brigades.” Both Strike Brigades should be able to operate simultaneously in different parts of the world, and by incorporating the next generation autonomous technology currently being trialled by the British Army, will remain combat effective post-Army 2020.
The ability for land forces of this size to self-sustain at long-range places an increased demand on logistics and the resupply chain of the British Army, which has been shown to have been overburdened in recent conflicts. This overburdening is likely to increase due to the evolving character of warfare and of the environments in which conflicts are likely to occur, specifically densely populated urban areas. These densely populated areas are likely to become more cluttered, congested and contested than ever before. Therefore, a more agile and flexible logistics and resupply system, able to conduct resupply in a more dynamic environment and over greater distances, will likely be required to meet the challenges of warfare from the mid-2020s and beyond.
Sustaining the British Armed Forces more broadly in densely populated areas may represent something of a shift in the UK’s vision for UGV technology. This UGV technology was previously utilised almost exclusively for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and for Countering-Improvised Explosive Devices for both the military and the police, as opposed to being truly a force-multiplier developing the logistics and resupply chains.
Looking at UGVs as a force multiplier, the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DTSL) is currently leading a three-year research and development programme entitled Autonomous Last Mile Resupply System (ALMRS). The ALMRS research is being undertaken to demonstrate system solutions which aim to reduce the logistical burden on the entire Armed Forces, in addition to providing new operational capability and to reduce operational casualties. Drawing on both commercial technology as well as conceptual academic ideas – ranging from online delivery systems to unmanned vehicles – more than 140 organisations from small and medium-sized enterprises, to large military-industrial corporations, submitted entries.
The first phase of the ALMRS programme challenged industry and academia to design pioneering technology to deliver vital supplies and support to soldiers on the front line, working with research teams across the UK and internationally. This research highlights the current direction with which the British vision is orientated regarding UGVs, i.e., support-based roles. Meanwhile, the second phase of the ALMRS programme started in July 2018 and is due to last for approximately twelve months. It included ‘Autonomous Warrior’, the Army Warfighting Experiment 18 (AWE18), a 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade battlegroup-level live fire exercise, which took place on Salisbury Plain in November 2018. This live fire exercise saw each of the five remaining projects left in the ALMRS programme demonstrate their autonomous capabilities in combined exercises with the British Armed Forces, the end user. The results of this exercise provided DSTL with user feedback, crucial to enable subsequent development; identifying how the Army can exploit developments in robotics and autonomous systems technology through capability integration.
Among the final five projects short-listed for the second phase of ALMRS and AWE18 was a UGV multi-purpose platform called TITAN, developed by British military technology company QinetiQ, in partnership with MILREM Robotics, an Estonian military technology company. Developing its Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry System (THeMIS), the QinetiQ-led programme impressed in the AWE18.
The THeMIS platform is designed to provide support for dismounted troops by serving as a transport platform, a remote weapon station, an IED detection and disposal unit, and surveillance and targeting acquisition system designed to enhance a commander’s situational awareness. THeMIS is an open architecture platform, with subsequent models based around a specific purpose or operational capability.
THeMIS Transport is designed to manoeuvre equipment around the battlefield to lighten the burden of soldiers, with a maximum payload weight of 750 kilograms. This 750 kilogram load would be adequate to resupply a platoon’s worth of ammunition, water, rations and medical supplies and to sustain it at 200% operating capacity – in essence, two resupplies in one. In addition, when utilised in battery mode, THeMIS Transport is near-silent and can travel for up to ninety minutes. When operating on the front-line, THeMIS Transport proves far more effective than a quad bike and trailer, which are presently in use with the British Army to achieve the same effect. Resupply is often overseen by the Platoon Sergeant, the platoon’s Senior Non-Commissioned Officer and most experienced soldier. Relieving the Platoon Sergeant of such a burden would create an additional force multiplier during land operations.
In addition, THeMIS can be fitted to act as a Remote Weapons System (RWS), with the ADDER version equipped with a .51 calibre Heavy Machine Gun, outfitted with both day and night optics. Additional THeMIS models include the PROTECTOR RWS, which integrates Javelin anti-tank missile capability. Meanwhile, more conventional THeMIS models include GroundEye, an EOD UGV, and the ELIX-XL and KK-4 LE, which are surveillance platforms that allow for the incorporation of remote drone technology.
By seeking to understand further the roles within the British Armed Forces both artificial intelligence and robotics currently have, in addition to what drives these roles and what challenges them, it is possible to gauge the continued evolution of remote warfare with the emergence of such technologies. Specifically, UGVs and RWS’ which were trialled extensively in 2018 by the British Army. Based upon research conducted on these recent trials, combined with current up-to-date in-theatre applications of such technology, it is assessed that the use of such equipment will expedite the rise of remote warfare as the preferred method of war by western policy makers in future low to medium level intensity conflicts seeking to minimise the physical risks to military personnel in addition to engaging in conflict more financially viable.
 HM Government. (2015, November). National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015. Retrieved February 17, 2019, from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/478933/52309_Cm_9161_NSS_SD_Review_web_only.pdf
 Erbel, M., & Kinsey, C. (2015, October 4). Think again – supplying war: Reappraising military logistics and its centrality to strategy and war. Retrieved February 17, 2019, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01402390.2015.1104669
 Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. (2017). Competition document: Autonomous last mile resupply. Retrieved February 17, 2019, from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/accelerator-competition-autonomous-last-mile-supply/accelerator-competition-autonomous-last-mile-resupply