Army researchers are testing future scenarios in which a single tank crew would control not only its own tank but a drone and two other unmanned vehicles in a coordinated attack using robot systems.

The Abrams Lethality Enabler was demonstrated at the Maneuver Center of Excellence Combat Vehicle Modernization Summit in August at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The demonstration, evaluated by personnel with the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command; Tank Automotive Research Development Engineering Center; and Army Research Lab, brought together a host of capabilities, according to an Army release.

The tank crew operated from inside the Abrams, but the soldiers also controlled a drone overhead to view the battlefield. The soldiers also were able to use an M58 Wolf Smoke Generator, a modified M113 armored personnel carrier, for cover and maneuver an unmanned Humvee carrying an automatic mortar system.

But the soldiers didn’t have to multi-task, driving all of the vehicles and flying the drone as they went. Instead, they relied on automated functions and supervised the robot-driven vehicles as the mini-formation attacked.

“Supervised autonomy is basically that you delegate tasks to that robot. It goes off and performs missions,” said Evan Finn, the Abrams Lethality Enabler project officer with ARDEC.

The drone found the target, the M58 pushed forward billowing smoke to conceal the tank, and the Humvee rained mortars for suppressive fire so that the Abrams could target and kill the objective.

Though the program uses the Abrams, the concepts and even the systems can be adapted for various combat vehicles, said Col. Richard Hornstein, ARDEC’s military deputy.

The concept aims to be “platform agnostic,” Hornstein said.

And while the robot drivers can perform functions, a human is always supervising the mission and decisions to fire, officials said.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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