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UK acquires fleet of autonomous ground vehicles - why?

The currently absent Magic_Mushroom has made the point that UAVs still require significant logistical support and that 'unmanned' is a bit of a misnomer. It's really only unmanned at the sharp end. But politicians only see the sharp end.

Inevitably an unmanned ground vehicle will cost more per unit because there's a technology element. That's not in dispute.

What trials do is determine how much technology is needed, what it might cost to procure, and how that can potentially be minimised by not over-gilding the lily. Also, how can it be made more robust/more capable over time?

Other costs? Ok. Take the lifecycle. A few years back, a civilian friend asked me why the army's new side-arm cost so much by comparison with buying a few Saturday Night Specials from Walmart. He got it once I explained that the full price of training support and maintenance over several decades was included in the 'per-pistol' price.

The logistics fleet might not last as long in service as some of our AFVs (some of which - yikes - are a lot older even than me) but let's go with, say, five years. What's the five-year cost of training, equipping (uniforms and personal equipment, food, other consumables) and accommodating the driver? What if he/she has a partner on the patch who needs housing? All that's a 'cost' and not one which is reasonable connectable/attributable.

Can the technology which is used for guidance be swapped out into a new chassis once the old is worn out or declared u/s? Probably.

And yes, there's also the consideration in asymmetric warfare of casualties. We don't have that echelon running all the way back through the Netherlands that we had in BAOR. If the donkey-wallopers don't have to take casualties en route then that's a win in all respects. Not just politically. Someone not dying gets my nod.

In terms of the blanket-stacking element, you'll still need them - just fewer of them. That's inevitable with automation. A lot of warehousing is now more automated, and a lot of materials handling now has a much-reduced manual element. So, loading at the near end is done per warehousing. At the far end, maybe something like a mini-DROPS. It's not beyond people to break open a few pallets.

Ultimately, I can see this saving money. I'm good with that. We don't have enough.

If it reduces the head count - well, we're already having recruitment problems.

And here's another thing: whenever cuts are mooted, it's the teeth arms which get the most love/outrage from the press. It's led to an unbalanced army. If this balances things up, because we can keep well-supported teethe arms (which, after all, is what it's all about) it's another win.

thats a good response and a better argument than what i usually see put forward. it does seem though that this starts to ask higher level questions, i.e. what sort of war are we preparing to fight? why is the army, and the sub-units within it, structured the way it is?

i'm not convince on the money front but that's something we can go back and forth on all day (as i mentioned earlier). i'm your example the UAV replaces the soldier but the assumption there is that the soldiers only purpose is to man the vehicle. what other tasks do they perform? i will concede that you will reduce the required headcount though, but not always as much is sometimes claimed/expected.

but does it make us more effective? where i think you make a good point is that currently there is often a gap where dismounts are expected to carry kit, maybe this could improve that situation, but i'd still be inclined that there is a simpler, more robust, manned solution.

where i admit i may be operating in fantasy army land is; if you dont have enough soldiers in your unit to man them then restructure the unit (which may mean closing units and redistributing soldiers).
 

Yarra

Old-Salt
thats a good response and a better argument than what i usually see put forward. it does seem though that this starts to ask higher level questions, i.e. what sort of war are we preparing to fight? why is the army, and the sub-units within it, structured the way it is?

i'm not convince on the money front but that's something we can go back and forth on all day (as i mentioned earlier). i'm your example the UAV replaces the soldier but the assumption there is that the soldiers only purpose is to man the vehicle. what other tasks do they perform? i will concede that you will reduce the required headcount though, but not always as much is sometimes claimed/expected.

but does it make us more effective? where i think you make a good point is that currently there is often a gap where dismounts are expected to carry kit, maybe this could improve that situation, but i'd still be inclined that there is a simpler, more robust, manned solution.

where i admit i may be operating in fantasy army land is; if you dont have enough soldiers in your unit to man them then restructure the unit (which may mean closing units and redistributing soldiers).

If I was a LR Coy commander, I would welcome any asset that reduced my CSS burden and allowed my formation to range further, fight lighter and faster. A 21C autonomous universal carrier would be v welcome, carrying SW, comms and csups. My most valuable assets, my troops, can concentrate on delivering front end op effect.

In terms of wider Defence, these ‘platforms’ mitigate recruiting and longer term budget issues (capitation). They also mean less exposure to risk to pers carrying out CSS functions and also fewer longer term muscular-skeletal issues.

It’s a win for me.

Y
 
Defence Lab buys tech kit to evaluate it. That’s what they’re meant to do. The outcome might be “well, after testing these for 12 months, we’ve found serious problems with them, and in general, they’re not ready for mass deployment. However, we did find that the DRQ-197 (other made up names available) has an immediate future as a bomb delivery vehicle. We simply loaded it with 4 tons of HE and ball bearings, drove it into simulated enemy infantry territory, where it took several A/tk rounds and survived enough to reach its destination. There we detonated it and took out 75 NBC suits filled with straw. This we recommend, the others not.”
 
They have bought five of them...


...that should be enough given the current size of the army.
 
If I was a LR Coy commander, I would welcome any asset that reduced my CSS burden and allowed my formation to range further, fight lighter and faster. A 21C autonomous universal carrier would be v welcome, carrying SW, comms and csups. My most valuable assets, my troops, can concentrate on delivering front end op effect.

In terms of wider Defence, these ‘platforms’ mitigate recruiting and longer term budget issues (capitation). They also mean less exposure to risk to pers carrying out CSS functions and also fewer longer term muscular-skeletal issues.

It’s a win for me.

Y

that's a good point on long term capitation and one i'd not considered but i'm afraid we'll differ (or rather, i'll differ with everyone else) on the bang to buck as i dont think it takes into consideration what is required to sustain those vehicles in the field and over their lifetime. i also think theres something to be said for a vehicle being manned by a soldier who can do some maintenance and recover the vehicle in some situations.
 
Defence Lab buys tech kit to evaluate it. That’s what they’re meant to do. The outcome might be “well, after testing these for 12 months, we’ve found serious problems with them, and in general, they’re not ready for mass deployment. However, we did find that the DRQ-197 (other made up names available) has an immediate future as a bomb delivery vehicle. We simply loaded it with 4 tons of HE and ball bearings, drove it into simulated enemy infantry territory, where it took several A/tk rounds and survived enough to reach its destination. There we detonated it and took out 75 NBC suits filled with straw. This we recommend, the others not.”

it sounds like an interesting place to work even if the robo-baggage train does irritate me
 

Cold_Collation

LE
Book Reviewer
thats a good response and a better argument than what i usually see put forward. it does seem though that this starts to ask higher level questions, i.e. what sort of war are we preparing to fight? why is the army, and the sub-units within it, structured the way it is?
You're welcome. :)

The army is structured the way it is because politically, several times over the course of several rounds of cuts defence reviews the politically difficult decisions have been ducked. That though is a whole new thread in itself - it has in fact been touched on in others.
i'm not convince on the money front but that's something we can go back and forth on all day (as i mentioned earlier). i'm your example the UAV replaces the soldier but the assumption there is that the soldiers only purpose is to man the vehicle. what other tasks do they perform? i will concede that you will reduce the required headcount though, but not always as much is sometimes claimed/expected.
That's why you have trials.

The biggest part of most organisations' costs - even those which are equipment-heavy such as the military - is people.

People soak up lots of money and space - to use the UAV as an example again, I think most people would be really surprised just how small an aircraft with intercontinental range and a rather large weapons load can be if you remove the crew.

But soldiers: barracks, mess halls, workshops, gyms, lecture theatres, leisure facilities, etc. Robots, by comparison: fewer soldiers, so reduce the footprints of all of the previous. More tecchies, yes, but the overall footprint is smaller.

Manning the vehicles: There's driving and maintaining. If you don't need to drive them, then don't. Send 'em out and wait for 'em to come back. That probably means a more robust logistics operation because machines are tireless - as long as they've got fuel/power, they'll operate. In some cases - many - yes, the only reason for people being there is to man the vehicles. In terms of reliability, you build something that just is reliable.

Before anyone scoffs at that, look at how reliable cars have become. Compared to the British Leyland (and other) products of the 1970s, they start and they go until they're turned off. Punctures are rare. Automotively, a drone will be no less reliable than a driven vehicle. Why assume it'll break more readily without a driver? It might well be more reliable as it's not subject to the vagaries of a human at the controls. If it does break down, recover it - as you would a driven vehicle. Some more on robustness below...
but does it make us more effective? where i think you make a good point is that currently there is often a gap where dismounts are expected to carry kit, maybe this could improve that situation, but i'd still be inclined that there is a simpler, more robust, manned solution.
Define 'effective'.

Manned would arguably be technologically simpler. Logistically, manned could be more complex. You've got to feed and accommodate the guys, especially if they're on a lengthy to and from. You've got to protect them, in ways you don't need to protect a vehicle (the wagon can just be a write-off if attacked; you can't do that to people).

More 'robust'? You might be happier trying to get a drone through in situations where you'd think twice about sending people - even unarmoured drones. So, you can take logistics and journey planning decisions that might previously have been considered rash. Send out a dozen trucks and expect a couple - enough - to get through, as compared to the force protection needed for a manned mission.

Also, the technology to do this isn't going to be adopted if it breaks down. Again, there's a political aspect to that - Headline: "Platoon of Our Boys (and girls...) killed because MOD bought cheap robots which didn't deliver ammunition on time." So, it has to be robust from a political as well as a practical perspective. And it probably will be. I've been around some of the work over the years which is leading to autonomous vehicles. The amount of fail-safe technology which necessarily has to go into them would astound most people... it simply has to work or it won't work. It's a binary decision.

Come back again to more 'effective': the drop-off point(s) for where the manpacking begins might be closer to - there's a good chance that an unmanned logistics vehicle will be smaller and stealthier because it doesn't have a bloody great cab on the front. It could well be lighter, so can cross terrain that a larger vehicle can't. That means more stuff delivered closer to where it's potentially needed. That means the Toms are less knackered and better provisioned. Win.
where i admit i may be operating in fantasy army land is; if you dont have enough soldiers in your unit to man them then restructure the unit (which may mean closing units and redistributing soldiers).
That's a structural issue again, per the point at the top of this post.
 
You're welcome. :)

The army is structured the way it is because politically, several times over the course of several rounds of cuts defence reviews the politically difficult decisions have been ducked. That though is a whole new thread in itself - it has in fact been touched on in others.

That's why you have trials.

The biggest part of most organisations' costs - even those which are equipment-heavy such as the military - is people.

People soak up lots of money and space - to use the UAV as an example again, I think most people would be really surprised just how small an aircraft with intercontinental range and a rather large weapons load can be if you remove the crew.

But soldiers: barracks, mess halls, workshops, gyms, lecture theatres, leisure facilities, etc. Robots, by comparison: fewer soldiers, so reduce the footprints of all of the previous. More tecchies, yes, but the overall footprint is smaller.

Manning the vehicles: There's driving and maintaining. If you don't need to drive them, then don't. Send 'em out and wait for 'em to come back. That probably means a more robust logistics operation because machines are tireless - as long as they've got fuel/power, they'll operate. In some cases - many - yes, the only reason for people being there is to man the vehicles. In terms of reliability, you build something that just is reliable.

Before anyone scoffs at that, look at how reliable cars have become. Compared to the British Leyland (and other) products of the 1970s, they start and they go until they're turned off. Punctures are rare. Automotively, a drone will be no less reliable than a driven vehicle. Why assume it'll break more readily without a driver? It might well be more reliable as it's not subject to the vagaries of a human at the controls. If it does break down, recover it - as you would a driven vehicle. Some more on robustness below...

Define 'effective'.

Manned would arguably be technologically simpler. Logistically, manned could be more complex. You've got to feed and accommodate the guys, especially if they're on a lengthy to and from. You've got to protect them, in ways you don't need to protect a vehicle (the wagon can just be a write-off if attacked; you can't do that to people).

More 'robust'? You might be happier trying to get a drone through in situations where you'd think twice about sending people - even unarmoured drones. So, you can take logistics and journey planning decisions that might previously have been considered rash. Send out a dozen trucks and expect a couple - enough - to get through, as compared to the force protection needed for a manned mission.

Also, the technology to do this isn't going to be adopted if it breaks down. Again, there's a political aspect to that - Headline: "Platoon of Our Boys (and girls...) killed because MOD bought cheap robots which didn't deliver ammunition on time." So, it has to be robust from a political as well as a practical perspective. And it probably will be. I've been around some of the work over the years which is leading to autonomous vehicles. The amount of fail-safe technology which necessarily has to go into them would astound most people... it simply has to work or it won't work. It's a binary decision.

Come back again to more 'effective': the drop-off point(s) for where the manpacking begins might be closer to - there's a good chance that an unmanned logistics vehicle will be smaller and stealthier because it doesn't have a bloody great cab on the front. It could well be lighter, so can cross terrain that a larger vehicle can't. That means more stuff delivered closer to where it's potentially needed. That means the Toms are less knackered and better provisioned. Win.

That's a structural issue again, per the point at the top of this post.

i'm going to chew on that for a bit
 

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