August 12, 2009

Army Needs More Unmanned Vehicles, Says General

A top U.S. Army general is urging the military to increase the deployment of unmanned vehicles on the ground, AFP reported.

Lieutenant General Rick Lynch, the commander of the III Armored Corps and the holder of a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, suggests the pilotless drones currently doing battle from the sky in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq will save more American soldier's lives.

Lynch told delegates on Tuesday at an exhibition featuring manufacturers of unmanned ground, maritime, air and space systems, there needs to be a sense of urgency created to produce the vehicles.

He said he had lost a total of 153 soldiers under his command while serving in Iraq and added that 80 percent of those soldiers didn't have to die.

"I am so tired of going to demonstrations of technology. The technology is there. We've got to get past the demonstrations and into the field. If you're not fielding, you're failing," he said.

In Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, the U.S. military has made extensive use of unmanned drones against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants for surveillance and launching missile attacks.

However, most ground operations are limited to the use of small camera-equipped robots to detect improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

While "aerial surveillance and weapons systems were useful, the bad guys know that if the weather turns bad we can't see them from the air," said Lynch, commander at Fort Hood, Texas, the largest U.S. military base in the world.

The immediate applications for unmanned vehicles included route clearance, surveillance and convoys.

"We're going to be fighting this war on terror for the next 10 years and the enemy's weapon of choice is the IED. It is today and it will be in the future," he said.

Unmanned vehicles that are excellent at clearing routes and can go from point A to point B and even detect and avoid obstacles are already in existence, Lynch said.

"Let's get those kids out of the vehicles," he added.

He also said unmanned vehicles should be deployed to carry out what he called "persistent stare."

"The bad guys in Iraq and Afghanistan, they've got their favorite places where they want to place their IEDS. When aerial surveillance is not available, we watch those IED hotspots with human beings, which puts them at risk," he said. "Unmanned robots can watch these IED hotspots for extended periods of time ... and kill those bad guys before they can plant the IEDs," he said.

The technology already exists to use unmanned vehicles in convoys, as lead or trailing vehicles, for example, cutting down on the number of drivers and the risks, he added.

"We're losing so many soldiers in convoys it's an embarrassment," he said. "Why does every vehicle have to be occupied by a human being?"

He believes an unmanned vehicle could also be used as a "robotic wingman," or a fighting platform that mirrors the actions of a manned vehicle.

Lynch will be holding a "Robotics Rodeo" from September 1-3, which is sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).

Participants at the exhibition were asked to bring their systems to Fort Hood and allow the soldiers who just got back from combat to use them and rate what they believe will and will not work on the battlefield.


Image Caption: The SUGV, or Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle, takes a look around Doña Ana Range Complex, N.M., July 30, during a three-day training exercise conducted by Soldiers of the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion to test the experimental technologies of the Army Future Combat Systems. Photo Credit: Stephen Baack


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