Technical note | Automated and Autonomous Systems for Combat Service Support: Scoping Study and Technology Prioritisation
Army Research and Development Request (ARDR) 16/0054 requires examination of the opportunities for employment and associated effects of autonomy and automation across Combat Service Support (CSS) functions. This report outlines the results of a scoping study, subject matter expert discussions and workshop, and use case development for automated and autonomous systems for CSS. The scoping study covers key concepts and trends, a technology scan, and identification of potential applications for logistic operations. The outcomes of the workshop with Army Headquarters personnel include prioritisation of the shortlisted technologies with the selection of the top four technologies for further research: predictive analytics, last-mile logistics unmanned aerial systems, portable networked health diagnostic technology, and semi-autonomous convoys. Further discussions identify key information requirements and delimiters for the selected technologies. The report goes on to present detailed use cases for two technologies of interest: semi-autonomous convoys and last-mile logistics unmanned aerial systems, including a use case for enhanced battle casualty care.
Technological developments in the space of automation and autonomy represent one of the most significant technological trends that affect military operations today. This report contributes to the Army Research and Development Request (ARDR) 16/0054 in examining the potential use of automated and autonomous systems in Combat Service Support (CSS). It also builds on the work conducted as part of The Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP) Land Group Technical Panel 6 concerning autonomy within supply and distribution.
The first part of this document outlines the key findings of an initial scoping study, covering the development of a conceptual model, examination of key trends, a detailed technology scan across different types of automated and autonomous systems, and mapping of these to potential applications in Land Logistics.
The conceptual model considers key aspects of the problem space. This includes the types of technologies that fall under automation and autonomy umbrella: Logistic Information Systems (LIS), various unmanned systems and swarms, human augmentation systems, power and energy management systems, and a wide range of emerging health technologies. The areas of application for these systems are mapped to the broad logistic functions in supply, transport, health, engineering and maintenance, Command and Control (C2), and capability life-cycle management. The model further considers the internal and external drivers across the social, technological, environmental, economic, political and military sectors as well the operational context for different mission types and environments.
Consideration of the key aspects serves to highlight the main challenges for automated and autonomous systems. These include data-management and security; balance of decision-making and trust; ability to deal with complex environments; technological maturity and specific physical constraints; reliance on GPS for navigation; organisational integration and human-machine interface; and lack of regulatory ecosystem. The general desired characteristics for these systems in military environment are listed as low supervisory burden, graceful degradation, low-cost, robustness, multi-functionality, modularity, and adaptability.
The technology scan highlights a large number of potential applications in logistics. Through review of military technology reports and discussions with ADF logistic officers, this study narrows them down to specific employment concepts across the logistic functions:
- Supply and transport: advanced LIS for supply-chain optimisation, asset visibility and risk-management; unmanned systems and semi-autonomous convoys for distribution tasks; unmanned squad support systems for loads and power supply; automated materiel handling equipment (MHE); and exoskeletons as a MHE alternative.
- Engineering, maintenance and field services: Condition-Based Maintenance (CBM); use of small robots for routine maintenance; and automated construction machinery.
- Health: LIS for more responsive medical resupply; unmanned systems for casualty evacuation and for bringing surgical capability forward; use of augmented reality and telemedicine for access to specialist care; automated patient-stabilisation systems; advanced prosthetics; field sterilisation systems; automated portable diagnostic devices to replace pathology laboratories; and persistent telemetry for casualties as well as background monitoring for soldiers.
- C2 and capability life-cycle management: LIS for long-term fleet management and supply chain risk-management; and unmanned systems for situational awareness.
The second part of this report covers a workshop activity with Army logistics subject matter experts (SMEs) at Army Headquarters, conducted in order to refine further research directions. The workshop discussions covered arguments for and against the use of specific technologies, a technology prioritisation exercise, discussion of specific information requirements and discriminators for the technologies, as well as a review of selected use cases. As a result of the workshop, the large list from the scoping study was narrowed down to the top four technologies of interest for CSS:
- Predictive analytics for supply chain optimisation, logistic planning and risk management
- Last-mile logistics unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for delivery of critical material to isolated and contested areas, to dispersed units, and for enhanced battle casualty care
- Portable networked health diagnostic technology for enhanced casualty care and health planning
- Semi-autonomous convoys for distribution in semi-structured environments.
In discussing the key characteristics for selection of technologies, the main factors are highlighted as force protection, improvements to CSS delivery, system vulnerability and cost of ownership. Other considerations cover cross-domain effects, compatibility with projects and operational concepts, and user acceptance.
The report goes on to outline detailed use cases developed for the employment of UAS in distribution tasks and battle casualty management, and for semi-autonomous convoys. These use cases were developed using systems engineering principles, and refined during the SME workshop. Common issues arising from detailed examination of the use cases include establishment of a value proposition, which would consider where the use of the technology is appropriate and warranted. A significant common requirement is development of clear C2 frameworks in asset ownership and tactical/operational control. Technology considerations include communication range, cyber-security issues and integration with organisational processes. Additional issues derived from use cases are asset protection and signatures, flexibility and alternative uses in tasking, and requirement for overall legal, doctrinal and regulatory frameworks.
Recommendations for ongoing work are provided in identification and analysis of emerging technologies, establishment of a common framework for further development of technology concepts of employment, and use of scenarios. Modelling and simulation is suggested for development of robust business cases. A requirement for detailed data management and exploitation strategies for any new networked system is again emphasized.