Security Studies Program Seminar

Armed UGV/SWORDS: Development, Tactics & Deployment

Barbara J. Machak and SFC David B. Platt (Ret)
Systems Concepts and Technology, ARDEC

February 23, 2005


Barbara Machak

ARDEC is the US Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center . I am a technologist. We do early development of technologies that will not see the field for at least 10 years. We go through the complete life cycle engineering (from R&D to demil) for armaments and munitions: advanced weapons; ammunition; and fire control. We provide the technology for over 90% of the Army's conventional lethality; significant support to other services lethality.

We do not claim to have robotics expertise. We are about guns and bullets, and moving them. But what we have done is look out at integration and application of these other technologies. We put out contracts to bring these out to us. Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey is our main location. There is an average of 20 years of experience. There is no comparable commercial equivalent.

Our core mission technology investments are the following: commander's decision aids to network vehicles and platoons and enable communications; precision smart munitions; acoustic and seismic sensors; nano parts coming online; micro-electronics and mechanical systems; MEMS small circuitry; funs and ammunition of all calibers and sizes.

ARDEC strategic business development areas are under consideration. How can we be more relevant? How can we get technology into the soldiers' hands more quickly? We tell businesses and scholars what things we are trying to improve. There has been a lot of interest in armed unmanned vehicles and remote weapons. We are taking first steps in that area now.

Today I am focusing on one specific program: XM1154 Special Weapons Observation Remote Recon Direct Action System (SWORDS): providing our soldiers remote target engagement capability.

But we have some other programs as well. We have developed recoil-less guns. We are also developing pyrotechnic systems to confuse heat seeking systems. We are also developing integration remote weapons stations with unmanned vehicles. We are working to develop the platforms that can stabilize the guns. We are also developing tactical fog for unmanned robotic vehicles. Smokescreens are currently used to hide, as a defensive maneuver. We are developing it for offensive use, so we can operate in it to our advantage. There are a lot of existing unmanned vehicle capabilities, for instance for ordnance disposal. There are also unmanned aerial vehicles. A lot of systems can now drop things from the air. We have been investing in making robotic cranes for handling our ammunition as well.

Military considerations for armed unmanned vehicles are the following: remote controlled vs. autonomous operations; safety implications: where is the man in the loop, and is the armed robot safe to use; who will employ it; requirements, doctrine, tactics technique and procedures. Technology to provide new military capability exists, but how it will be used is something that still has to be determined.

Now I will turn it over to Dave Platt, former SFC, with Explosive Ordnance Disposal. This is the man with the idea, and the rest of the history is still to be determined.


Dave Platt

We are arming robots for today's combat. Why do we need this? Today no navy will come out of its harbors to fight the US Navy in a battle on the open seas. The same is true of other countries' air forces. Our forces are so technologically advanced that direct attacks are not thinkable. But for people on the ground, the situation is the opposite. Any person who has a gun who doesn't like us can attack us. We need to make this fight as unfair as possible for these people.

Our objectives: to demonstrate the ability to live fire light antitank weapons, 40 mm grenades, and small arms from a robotic platform in combat; to demonstrate maturity of hardware for transition to user; to provide a level of safety to the user. We can configure it to shoot almost any weapon a human can shoot. Major subsystems are the robot, the operator control unit, and the firing circuit. Main players in the team: DukePro, Foster-Miller, Precision Remotes. We supply to the management, safety, the direction, and the experience in robotics.

On of the tricks is integration. We wanted to keep it simple. Use existing systems. Use material released guns and ammunition. They are already fielded, parts, spares that are in the system. The soldier is already familiar with them.

First system: SWORDS, displayed on video. In our tests, there were no misfeeds, no jams, no problems. We also tested the M202 LAW Launcher. We took a standard launcher, had the contractor make brackets to fit it onto the robot, put a camera on it, and use it to shoot. It is manually loaded, but then sent downrange. We take the apprehension out of the trigger firing process. Target acquisition and ranging is quick, only 5 seconds. 100-300 m range. The robot can also fire multiple tubes at a time.

40 mm grenade launcher: you can fire at quick intervals (ripple fire) and you can decide which tubes you want to fire. This is an area weapon.

Maturity. We are currently at DTC, but it is not completed. TTP (techniques, training, procedures) written. SOP in place. Manuals in place. NETT in place. CLS (contractor, logistics support) base in place.

A RAND document shows two scenarios for use of this. It is available at under "Examining the Army's Future Warrior". One scenario: 40-man platoon attacking a fortified entrenched position. What does adding the SWORDS get you? A robot one meter high gets you significant improvements. Improved LER 37%, decreased KIAs by 20%, increased efficiency by 10%. These are big differences. These were compared to other changes, such as increasing organic army. Overall, these UGVs significantly improve the survivability of the infantry platoon, even when used in limited numbers. Size does matter. If you are smaller, you are more likely to engage targets and detect them, move more quickly, and be lethal.

Logistics: the SWORDS can be carried on the hood of a Hummer. You can use it to defend a convoy. Very small logistics trail.

The data supports our efforts. The UGVs controlled 23 percent of the kills but constituted only 13 percent of the force.

Potential ways to deploy: from infantry carriers; cooperative engagements with armed UAVs; cooperative efforts with UGVs. For instance, use a Maverick to transport it to a particular spot, drop it, then drive it to a better vantage point and attack. But you have to bring it back to the operator to replenish it.


Rapporteur: Caitlin Talmadge

back to seminar summary, Spring 2005