As part of ongoing efforts to modernize its operations, tactics and technologies, the United States Army’s Austin-based Futures Command is holding demonstrations of existing technology and equipment this week at the Texas A&M University System’s RELLIS Campus. 

Six weapons and defense industry vendors showcased seven autonomous combat vehicles Thursday morning. Numerous Army officials and area media members watched from the top of a hill as the vehicles took on a muddy course with twists, turns, a mud pit and a rock pile. 

The five-day evaluation, which began Monday and ends today, also includes nighttime testing. 

On his visit to the Texas A&M University campus last week, Army Secretary Mark T. Esper called Army Futures Command, announced on July 13, the “most significant reorganization effort since 1973.” 

Col. Patrick Seiber, communications director for Army Futures Command, described the demonstrations as the Army’s “first swing of the bat” in looking at what vendors have to offer in terms of robotic and other autonomous or semiautonomous vehicles. 

“A year ago, Secretary Esper laid out his vision for the Army in 2028,” Seiber said. “It’s got to be ready to fight in manned, unmanned and optionally manned formations. The mark is out there in 2028 to do that.

“We’re looking at our near-peer competitors, Russia and China, and how they are organizing. They’re already looking at these optionally manned, remotely manned vehicles. We’ve got to do the same thing.” 

Army Col. Warren Sponsler, deputy director of the Next Generation Cross-Functional Team, said robotic combat vehicles will “augment our current combat formations with a capability that will help reduce risk to soldiers.”

“From our perspective, there are a lot of dirty and dangerous things that our soldiers do on the battlefield,” he said. “We certainly have a long way to go to be able to replace some of those functions that manned platforms or individual soldiers do today — but we are strong believers that this is going to be a revolutionary change to what our units do.” 

To participate in the demonstration, the vehicles needed to be able to travel over cross-country terrain, off-road and on paved roads at speeds of between 15 and 75 miles per hour, carrying a load of 1,000 pounds. The vehicles also needed to be capable of non-line-of-sight operation in myriad weather conditions — and at a distance of more than 500 meters from the operator station. 

Sponsler said that the rainy weather of late in the Brazos Valley assisted with the demonstration, as it helped provide the muddy conditions needed for some portions of the testing. 

“These are all steps on helping to prove the hypothesis that these things can actually integrate into a unit and do the same things that our manned platforms do,” Sponsler said.

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