Army revises doctrine for battlefield bots

Service searches for better ways to use unmanned systems

Although the Army has been using robots in combat for over a decade, it must begin to develop a sound set of operational rules and doctrine for their future use, a top Defense Department official said Aug. 16 at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s conference in Washington D.C. 

The Army is still working out its training and doctrine for using robots in combat. Key to this are the service’s modernization plans that call for a networked and highly automated force, said Maj. Gen. Walter Davis, deputy director of the Capabilities Integration Center at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.

For the United States and its allies. most future combat environments will be of a complex, urban nature, Davis said. The enemies that the nation’s forces have faced have proven to be adaptable, decentralized and highly aware of the battelfield situation. To counter these threats, the Army must take a flexible approach that can work through a variety of operational scenarios from humanitarian operations to combined arms engagements, he said.

To meet its future goals, the service has developed some guiding principles for using unmanned systems on the battlefield. They are:

  • Unmanned operations integration is critical to Army capstone concepts which will lay the foundations for future missions.
  • Robotics exist to enable and replace humans.
  • Humans should not have to accommodate robotic systems.
  • Early user and technology developer collaboration.
  • A “system of systems” methodology to measure effectiveness.
  • Cost/benefit analysis to maximize force structure.

Getting the most benefit from these principles will require the Army to develop practices and procedures to use robotics and automated systems in a variety of missions, from calling in artillery fire, removing wounded from the battlefield, reconnaissance and surveillance, mission sustainment and logistics and battlefield security. “We need to get a good comprehensive view of robotics capabilities,” Davis said.

Army officials also must be aware of the moral implications of using unmanned and possibly autonomous systems on the battlefield. Doctrine will have to be developed that will allow commanders to comfortably deploy robots, and to deal with any issues when they fail. “Autonomous systems must be able to adapt to changes to work with and among humans,” he said.

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Your Name:(optional)
Your Email:(optional)
Your Location:(optional)
Please type the letters/numbers you see above

Amber Corrin's Inside DOD Blog


  • Delivering Secure Mobile Operations to the Warfighter-From Concept to Reality

    The proliferation of mobile devices in the marketplace is changing how Federal agencies share information, collaborate, and conduct business. Register now to attend this Webcast where you will learn about DOD plans to address specific mobile security requirements, meet challenges, and leverage technologies for enhanced secure remote access. Read more