Learning how to integrate robots into combined arms operations

Brian Michelson:
In May 1940, the Allied and German Armies squared off in what was expected to be an extended campaign for the conquest of France. Six weeks later, the victorious German Army marched down the Champs-Elysees in Paris. How was it that the Germans, with fewer tanks, fewer trucks, fewer troops, less artillery and access to roughly equivalent technologies, managed to accomplish such a remarkable feat? While leadership, luck, and a host of other factors were at play, the decisive factor was the remarkable way in which a few German inter-war military thinkers envisioned and developed a new way of warfare, known to the Allies as the blitzkrieg. German doctrine successfully integrated current technologies in aircraft, radios, and tanks into a coherent and integrated way of fighting and then applied it to great effect.The result was amplified because the Germans fought an enemy that in many cases failed to account for the possibilities enabled by the new combination of these technologies.

We are now on the cusp of a similar revolution in warfare with the opportunity to integrate several current and near term technologies into our concept of how we will conduct military operations in the not-to-distant future. The winner of the next conflict will not likely be determined primarily by the state of their technologies, but by how well a nation’s military thinkers conceptualize future warfare in an integrated manner and then apply robotic systems, or warbots, appropriately to our way of fighting. For purposes of this discussion, warbots can be defined as robotic combat systems that can detect, identify, and apply lethal force to enemy combatants within prescribed parameters and without immediate human intervention. Using the historical lens of the blitzkrieg, we will examine two key trends that can help inform our concept of future warfare and our ability to wage it. They include: the rise of lethal warbots as primary combatants and adapting current leadership methods to a future era of manned-unmanned, or Centaur, teaming.
Most militaries continue to look at warbots as support weapons that can conduct reconnaissance, selective strike, and logistical or other supporting tasks. Many military leaders are most comfortable with warbots in these limited rolesbecause it is easier to keep humans in the loop and therefore retain a greater feeling of control. There is comparatively little discussion of incorporating warbots in significant, and in certain scenarios, primary combat roles into future combat doctrine. To do so, and to take advantage of the full capabilities of warbots, would require acceptance of a greater degree of autonomy, akin to the Army concept of Mission Command, than the US military seems to be comfortable with at this point. The U.S. military continues to invest in manned combat systems, yet warbots offer tremendous potential advantages as primary combatants. They are simply more capable, cheaper, and offer less risk to humans than manned equivalents in many, if not most, combat situations.

Robotic systems are able to engage enemies and respond to threats at far higher speeds than humans.The AH-64D Apache attack helicopter’s Longbow fire control radar already “automatically searches, detects, locates, classifies, and prioritizes multiple moving and stationary targets on land, air, and water in all weather and battlefield conditions.”[iv] Adding the ability to engage within human “on the loop” specified parameters offers the advantage of getting the first, and likely lethal, shot off faster than a human “in the loop” configuration. While the Israeli Trophy Active Protection System (APS) is a defensive system, it further demonstrates how faster reaction times could be achieved in an offensive system. It is a “fully automated” active point defense for vehicles thatresponds without human intervention to rapidly detect and neutralize incoming rockets and missiles with both “shotgun like blast[s] of pellets” as well as jamming.[v] Inserting a human into this decision loop would degrade the system and put it at a disadvantage due the necessity of ultra fast reaction times to counter an incoming missile.
There is more.

Mechanized warfare was embraced because it enhanced mobility and movement to contact. The new weapons systems extend the range of movement to contact beyond normal human endurance.  They can be built to move and change directions much quicker than humans can react, or in some cases survive.  A naval air jet can be launched from a carrier well out of the range of enemy carrier killer missiles, and from a distance that is usually beyond human endurance.

The key to the German blitzkrieg was combined arms operations.  Integrating warbots into combined arms operation will only enhance the ability to close with and destroy and enemy.


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