Army Floats Plan for Autonomous ”Wingmen”

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March 20, 2018 | Originally published by Date Line: March 20 on

Maj. Mike Dvorak, robotics branch chief at the Army Capabilities Integration Center, wanted to make a point right off the bat during a recent talk. 

“There is no plan to have autonomous killer robots, or anything like that,” he said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Robotics Capabilities Conference in March.

Just in case anyone missed it, he reiterated the statement later.

Nor is the Army intending to use machines to replace personnel, he added. The service on Feb. 27 published its autonomous systems and robotics strategy. Dvorak, who led the study, came to the conference to discuss that, and the service’s “tentative” roadmap to field robotic wingmen for its tactical wheeled and combat vehicles.

While the idea has been discussed for years, it began to gain purchase among senior Army leaders last September, Dvorak said. He has been working on a draft plan since then. 

The “wingman” term — with its roots in the world of military aviation — is spreading beyond the skies and has been discussed for several years as a concept the Army might employ. It would mean battlefields populated by a mix of manned and unmanned vehicles, some of them armed, although Dvorak also wanted to stress that a human will remain the ultimate decision-maker as to whether lethal force is employed — as per Defense Department policy.