Spectacular new military technology has been introduced at a world-leading defence and security exhibition.
Defence/aerospace giant BAE Systems unwrapped its ‘Ironclad’ concept at DSEI 2017, held last week in London. One of the most startling designs on show, it stands to revolutionise frontline combat operations.
At the heart of BAE’s battlefield concept is Ironclad itself: a next-gen autonomous ground vehicle. Smaller autonomous systems – both air and ground-based – work to provide a support ‘shield’ around it. These are armed UAVs/UGVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles/Unmanned Ground Vehicles) featuring integrated weapons stations. Initially equipped with standard ballistic munitions and countermeasures, they’d be upgraded to laser weapons in time, once directed energy technology has become more advanced.
Another feature called ‘Friend or Foe’ would enable the shield to protect close-positioned personnel against IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and other ground-level threats.
Autonomous Battlefield Network
BAE Systems stresses that its Ironclad autonomous battlefield network isn’t meant to remove personnel from theatre but, rather, reduce the risks to which they’re exposed. Humans will remain integral to battlefield operations but unmanned systems will perform the more hazardous duties.
“We’re already taking steps to develop the vehicles and systems needed for this future concept”, says BAE Systems Land (UK) Technology Lead, John Puddy. “Our new unmanned ground vehicle, Ironclad, is being developed to work autonomously as part of a battlegroup and we’re also integrating unmanned aerial vehicles in current vehicle platforms.”
“No-one can be entirely sure what the future will look like, but we do know that it’s a relatively short step from the technology available today to having a fleet of autonomous vehicles sharing situational awareness and – where appropriate – making certain decisions independently. Today’s active protection systems already make decisions which require ultra-fast reactions such as triggering explosive reactive armour. The pace of development means these reactions need to be faster than ever before.”
Ironclad Unmanned Ground Vehicle
The Ironclad Unmanned Ground Vehicle has been designed to perform as a personnel support platform. CASEVAC (Casualty Evacuation) would be a key role and a linked-up Ironclad pair would have the payload capacity for 500kg of medical equipment. Operational range, thanks to a high-endurance battery, would reach 50 kilometres.
“The next step is for Ironclad to act autonomously as part of a battlegroup, interacting with other vehicles and ground troops to follow mission objectives”, explains BAE Systems Land’s future programmes director, Craig Fennell. “This is being tested on existing vehicles as the technology – already at a high state of readiness – is developed.”
“There will always be a human in the loop, but increasing use of autonomy and unmanned vehicles means they can focus on key decisions and have more options to avoid putting people in dangerous situations.”
Ironclad image copyright/courtesy BAE Systems 2017