Military robots from 2007 to 2032

A new report from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) looks at the future of military's unmanned systems over the next 25 years. This 188-page report covers air-, land- and sea-based unmanned technology from 2007 to 2032. The long document notes that drone aircraft and ground-based robots have already proved they could be useful in Iraq and Afghanistan by saving soldiers lives. The report also integrates contributions of combat commanders pointing out at possible improvements to today's systems, such as 'better sensor technology for use on unmanned systems to identify underwater mines and land-based improvised explosive devices.' This report also looks at how developments in artificial intelligence and robotics might lead to 'autonomous, 'thinking' unmanned systems that could, for example, be used in aerial platforms to suppress enemy air defenses.'

A new report from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) looks at the future of military's unmanned systems over the next 25 years. This 188-page report covers air-, land- and sea-based unmanned technology from 2007 to 2032. The long document notes that drone aircraft and ground-based robots have already proved they could be useful in Iraq and Afghanistan by saving soldiers lives. The report also integrates contributions of combat commanders pointing out at possible improvements to today's systems, such as 'better sensor technology for use on unmanned systems to identify underwater mines and land-based improvised explosive devices.' This report also looks at how developments in artificial intelligence and robotics might lead to 'autonomous, 'thinking' unmanned systems that could, for example, be used in aerial platforms to suppress enemy air defenses.'

DoD Vision for Unmanned Systems

You can see above a "Joint Services Roadmap for Achieving DoD Vision for Unmanned Systems" (Credit:DoD). This chart is included in the "Unmanned Systems Roadmap: 2007-2032" report (PDF format, 188 pages, 11.9 MB, December 10, 2007). You'll find a larger version on page 17 of the PDF document.

As you can guess, such a report uses many acronyms, even in the executive summary, which starts like this. "Today’s military has seen an evolution in technology that is creating an entirely new capability to project power through the use of unmanned systems while reducing the risk to human life. The contributions of unmanned systems continue to increase. As of October 2006, coalition Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs), exclusive of hand-launched systems, had flown almost 400,000 flight hours in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) had responded to over 11,000 Improvised Explosive Device (IED) situations, and Unmanned Maritime Systems (UMSs) had provided security to ports. As a result of these successes, the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) emphasized the importance of unmanned systems in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)."

And it continues by describing why such a roadmap is necessary. "As the Department of Defense (DoD) develops and employs an increasingly sophisticated force of unmanned systems over the next 25 years (2007 to 2032), technologists, acquisition officials, and operational planners require a clear, coordinated plan for the evolution and transition of unmanned systems technology. With the publication of this document, individual roadmaps and master plans for UASs, UGVs, and UMSs (defined as Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUVs) and Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs)) have been incorporated into a comprehensive DoD Unmanned Systems Roadmap."

The report also highlights the most urgent mission needs that are supported both technologically and operationally by various unmanned systems.

  1. Reconnaissance and Surveillance
  2. Target Identification and Designation
  3. Counter-Mine Warfare
  4. Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive (CBRNE) Reconnaissance

DoD drones in 2007

Before going further, and as I can't include the pictures of all the unmanned systems shown in this report, here is a photo of small drones currently used by the Army. (Credit: DoD report, page 19 of the PDF document)

On page 15 of the PDF version of the report, you'll find a definition of what is an unmanned vehicle for the DoD: "A powered vehicle that does not carry a human operator, can be operated autonomously or remotely, can be expendable or recoverable, and can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload. Ballistic or semi-ballistic vehicles, cruise missiles, artillery projectiles, torpedoes, mines, satellites, and unattended sensors (with no form of propulsion) are not considered unmanned vehicles. Unmanned vehicles are the primary component of unmanned systems."

And here is the DoD vision of the future. "The DoD will develop and employ an increasingly sophisticated force of unmanned systems over the next 25 years (2007 to 2032). This force must evolve to become seamlessly integrated with manned systems as well as with other unmanned systems. The Department will pursue greater autonomy in order to improve the ability of unmanned systems to operate independently, either individually or collaboratively, to execute complex missions in a dynamic environment."

DoD robot catching a bomb in 2007

For your viewing pleasure, here is a great photo of a DoD robot catching a bomb. (Credit: DoD report, page 23 of the PDF document)

The report contains three appendices describing respectively the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs) on 58 pages, the Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) on 21 pages and the Unmanned Maritime Systems (UMSs) on 19 pages. This is the most complete inventory of UAVs I've ever seen. It even includes two references to Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot (BEAR) on pages 48 and 158 of the PDF version.

I don't think this report contains any classified information. However, this is a valuable resource if you're interested in military robots.

Sources: Gerry J. Gilmore, American Forces Press Service, December 18, 2007; and various websites

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