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Articles

Revolutionizing Military Operations

Sub Title : A comprehensive exploration of manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) and its future in the Indian Defence Forces

Issues Details : Vol 18 Issue 1 Mar – Apr 2024

Author : Brig Ashis Bhattacharya (Retd), Principal Adviser, CII

Page No. : 23

Category : Military Affairs

: March 22, 2024

This article dives deeper into the “UGV Experiment,” a pivotal moment linking the Indian Army and industry through indigenous innovation in Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs). Sparked by a casual conversation in 2019, this journey explores the evolution of Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) and the vital role of Indian startups in advancing military technology. Emphasizing the experiment’s impact on future defence strategies, we chart the course of MUM-T’s integration into military planning, urging a unified approach to harnessing unmanned capabilities effectively.

The idea of introducing Indigenous private industry capability in UGVs to the defence forces sprouted from a casual 2019 chat in CCD café with a college student, about his idea of developing a mechanism for remotely controlling a weapon so that it could be placed at a position away from the fox-hole he was assigned, thus ensuring his safety and getting a better angle of fire.  His passion got me researching on global capabilities in the field when the word MUM-T (Manned -Unmanned Teams) came up. Thereafter, another start-up, with a background in robotics and AI, pitched an all-encompassing indigenous UGV solution, tackling logistics, remote-controlled weapons, and casualty evacuation to shield soldiers from life-threatening situations.

Proactive Initiatives and the ‘UGV Experiment’

Bolstered by the prowess of Indian startups and buoyed by a similar interest of the then head of Army Design Bureau (ADB), a “UGV Experiment” (for the Army) was organised in Dec 2021. This live experiment was built around using existing land combat grouping like Combat teams (consisting of tanks, ICVs and Infantry), working with UGVs prototypes in conventional and CI/CT roles aiming to familiarise a tri-service audience with capabilities of indigenous UGV, and finally catalysing development of Gen Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQRS) for future MUM-T platforms, the most important exercise to start any development or procurement procedure in Indian Defence Forces. This live exercise was able to kickstart a lively debate on MUM-T.

Historical Context and The Evolution of Military Thinking in MUM-T

Fast forward to this day, all military minds concede to the understanding that future wars will see more and more robots/unmanned vehicle hitting the battlefield. One wouldn’t be surprised if the percentage of unmanned : manned touches 70:30 ratios over the next decade or so. A few days back, in a live-firing exercise, Rheinmetall US, showcased its 8-wheeled UGV firing platform with an RCWS. Seeing casualties in the Russia – Ukraine war, and the success of UAVs and loitering ammunition, it is but natural for all advanced armies to take note and look for solution in a quick time frame to obviate a Vietnam-type public opinion building up against the government of the day.

The MUM-T concept is not new. Those of us who have been following military technology over our military careers, would know how the US worked on the J-STARS (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System) working through the JTIDS (Joint Tactical Information Distribution System) network in the 1980s, moving towards a sensor-weapon-attack inter-phasing linked through a seamless ground, aerial and space networks.

The acronym MUM-T, was originally coined by the US Army in 2009, while working on teaming the AH-64E APACHE GUARDIAN attack helicopter with fixed-wing UAS. In a 2013 MUM-T Strategy brief, the United States Army Aviation Centre (USAACE) defined MUM-T as: ‘The synchronized employment of soldier, manned and unmanned air and ground vehicles, robotics, and sensors to achieve enhanced situational understanding, greater lethality, and improved survivability.’  Donald Woldhuis and Michael Spencer explain MUM-T as ‘a standardized systems architecture and communications protocol that enables live and still images gained from the sensor payloads of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to be shared across a force’. The technology backup for MUM-T was transforming fast at that time. What may not have been factored in at that time is the emergence of sophisticated AI engines unleased in the last one year.

As of today, solutions available are much more sophisticated, integrating unmanned systems in an automated and networked battlefield, driven to a large extent by AI and Quantum technologies. One can be sure, the Indian military planners’ would be focusing on this as you read this.

Considering that the Indian Defence Forces are now thinking and also rapidly moving towards the MUM-T format, are we applying adequate strategic thought for sustaining MUM-T in the long-term? My guess is a NO. From all the indications that one gets from the RFIs, RFPs and emergency purchases of unmanned systems including UAVs, UGVs, Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs), targeting diverse sources, geographies and with diverse protocols/standards, there are reasons to feel worried. Make II lists, iDEX challenges and TDF projects have numerous projects listed for the private industry in general and start-ups in particular without defining standards for architecture or protocol for communication and cyber security. Each department in the three services seem to working in silos with no one to think of the integration aspects. This is natural when there is no doctrine in place for incorporating MUM-T in the operational planning of military operations.  These gaps need to be bridged earliest so as to ensure homogenous employment of heterogenous unmanned assets, namely traditional platforms, and unmanned platforms, within individual combat units. Kudos to the MoD for setting up a task force to sort out similar issues of standard architecture, protocol mismatches and security solutions for the Software Defined Radis (SDR). A similar approach, if not driven by individual services, should be driven by HQ IDS or the MoD.

Emerging Technologies in MUM-T

Talking of technologies, the following is a possible list of cutting-edge relevant technologies (indicative but not ultimate) contributing to the advancement and support of Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) for a smart, connected and modular unmanned systems connected by a distributed network of intelligence:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning: AI algorithms enable unmanned systems to make autonomous decisions, enhancing their adaptability and responsiveness in dynamic environments. Machine learning algorithms improve the ability of unmanned platforms to learn and optimize performance based on data.
  • Swarm Robotics: Swarm robotics involves the coordination of multiple autonomous robots to work collaboratively. In the context of MUM-T, swarming technology allows for the coordinated action of unmanned systems, facilitating tasks such as surveillance, reconnaissance, search operations and weapon delivery.
  • Edge Computing: Edge computing involves processing data closer to the source rather than relying on a centralized server. This technology enhances the speed of data processing and reduces latency, critical for real-time decision-making in MUM-T scenarios.
  • 5G/6G Connectivity: The deployment of 5G/6G networks provides high-speed, low-latency communication, crucial for maintaining connectivity between manned and unmanned platforms, enabling faster and more reliable data exchange, contributing to the effectiveness of MUM-T operations.
  • Advanced Sensors and Imaging Technologies: Continuous advancements in sensors, including high-resolution cameras, LIDAR, radar, and infrared sensors, enhance the perceptual capabilities of unmanned systems. These sensors contribute to improved situational awareness and target detection. Realtime transmission of hi-resolution videos for surveillance and targeting purposes is another area of focus.
  • Autonomous Navigation Systems: Cutting-edge navigation systems with obstacle detection and avoidance capabilities enable unmanned vehicles to navigate complex and dynamic environments autonomously. This is essential for ensuring the safety and efficiency of MUM-T operations.
  • Human-Machine Interface (HMI): Intuitive and user-friendly HMIs facilitate seamless communication between human operators and unmanned systems. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies are increasingly integrated into HMIs to enhance the operator’s situational awareness.
  • Cybersecurity Solutions: Robust cybersecurity solutions are critical to protecting communication channels, preventing unauthorized access, and ensuring the integrity of data exchanged between manned and unmanned platforms.
  • Quantum Computing: While still in its early stages, quantum computing holds the potential to revolutionize data processing and encryption. In the context of MUM-T, this could contribute to more sophisticated encryption methods and faster data analysis.
  • Energy-Efficient Technologies: Advancements in energy-efficient technologies, including lightweight materials, improved battery technologies, and energy harvesting solutions, contribute to extending the operational endurance of unmanned systems.
  • Collaborative Robotics (Cobots): Cobots, designed to work alongside human operators, play a role in ground-based MUM-T scenarios. These robots can assist with tasks ranging from logistics to reconnaissance, collaborating with human forces effectively.

Applications in the Three Services

Having seen the possible technologies, let’s look at possible applications in the three services:

MUM-T in Air Warfare: Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) in air warfare revolutionizes the dynamics of military operations. In the skies, MUM-T leverages the strengths of both human-operated and unmanned aerial Systems (UASs). Manned aircraft, such as fighter jets or reconnaissance planes, collaborate seamlessly with UASs to extend operational reach and enhance surveillance capabilities. UAVs equipped with advanced sensors contribute to persistent surveillance, tracking enemy movements, and providing real-time intelligence to human operators. This integration facilitates precision strikes, minimizing collateral damage and optimizing the use of firepower. Additionally, MUM-T in air warfare enables coordinated responses to evolving threats, combining the adaptability of autonomous systems with the strategic decision-making of human pilots.

MUM-T in Land Warfare: On the ground, Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) transforms land warfare by integrating human-operated ground forces with unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) and aerial drones. UGVs with sensors and cameras contribute to advanced reconnaissance and surveillance, providing real-time data to human operators. In urban environments or during special operations, MUM-T ensures effective navigation through complex terrain, minimizing risks to human personnel. The collaboration between soldiers and autonomous systems enhances situational awareness and decision-making capabilities. MUM-T in land warfare extends to logistical support, where UGVs  assist in supply/ resupply missions, optimizing the efficiency of military operations. To prove this point, the Infantry platoon in the “UGV Experiment” carried out a ANE hideout clearing  drill carrying only their personal weapons and ammunition. The backpack and re-org stores fetched up on a UGV following the column in autonomous mode.

MUM-T in Naval Warfare: In naval warfare, Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) introduces a new era of collaboration between crewed vessels and unmanned systems, including USVs and UUVs. UUVs equipped with advanced sensors contribute to underwater reconnaissance and mine countermeasures, enhancing the naval force’s ability to navigate and control maritime environments. MUM-T ensures coordinated efforts in anti-submarine warfare, where crewed submarines collaborate with autonomous systems to detect and respond to submarine threats effectively. The integration of MUM-T in naval operations extends to maritime surveillance, where unmanned systems provide persistent monitoring over the seas. Network-centric warfare principles enhance communication and data-sharing capabilities, enabling real-time decision-making and enhancing overall maritime security.

Structuring MUM-T Capabilities

Keeping in mind the complexities of modern military operations and integration of advanced technologies, it is imperative to put in place a structured organisation that facilitates effectiveness, efficiency, and adaptability in employing MUM-T capabilities across services—Army, Air Force, and Navy.

For seamless theatre operations at the strategic level the services– the Indian Army, Indian Air Force, and Indian Navy could contemplate/debate the following organisations:

Joint MUM-T Command (JMTC): At the apex level, the creation of a Joint MUM-T Command (JMTC) would centralize the management and coordination of MUM-T activities across all three services. This command structure would ensure a unified approach to policy formulation, Setting standards/protocols, strategic planning, training and resource allocation for MUM-T operations.

Service-specific MUM-T Wings: Under the JMTC, each service would have its own MUM-T Wing responsible for the implementation of MUM-T strategies within their respective domains.

  • Army MUM-T Wing,
  • Air Force MUM-T Wing,
  • Naval MUM-T Wing.

Functional Divisions within JMTC: Central activities could be coordinated here in addition to policy formulation and R&D:

Research and Development (R&D) Division: Focused on advancing MUM-T technologies, this division could collaborate with research institutions, defence laboratories, and industry partners to ensure the continuous evolution of unmanned systems and associated technologies.

Training and Doctrine Division: Responsible for developing standardized training programs and doctrines for MUM-T operations ensuring that military personnel across services are proficient in operating and collaborating with unmanned systems.

Cybersecurity and Communications Division: This could ensure secure and efficient communication between manned and unmanned platforms. This division would need to address cybersecurity challenges associated with MUM-T operations including developing encryption layers safeguarding data and communication channels.

A suggested structure like above would address the following:

Unified Command and Control: Establishing a JMTC would ensure centralized command and control, promoting synergy across all three services. This unity is essential for coherent decision-making, target allocation, resource allocation, and strategic planning related to MUM-T operations preventing fragmentation and fostering a holistic approach to utilizing unmanned systems in diverse military scenarios.

Domain-Specific Expertise: Service-specific MUM-T Wings would aid specialization and in-depth understanding of unique challenges and opportunities within each domain—land, air, and naval warfare. This specialized focus ensures that MUM-T strategies are tailored to the specific needs and requirements of each service, maximizing operational effectiveness.

Collaborative Decision-Making: The suggested structure encourages collaboration and shared decision-making. By having representatives from each service in the JMTC, joint planning and coordination become more effective, overcoming inter-service challenges, fostering a cohesive environment, and ensuring that the benefits of MUM-T are fully realized across the entire defence spectrum.

Research and Development Focus: The Research and Development (R&D) Division emphasizes the importance of continuous innovation in MUM-T technologies, a case especially important for the Indian ecosystem where we not only need to do a lot of catching up, but also leverage our startup resources to take a global leadership role MUM-T. The division would ensure that the Indian Defence Forces remain at the forefront of technological advancements, adapting to emerging threats and opportunities in unmanned systems.

Standardized Training and Doctrine: The Training and Doctrine Division will play a pivotal role in ensuring that military personnel receive standardized and comprehensive training for MUM-T operations. This consistency in training programs enables seamless interoperability, as personnel across different services are proficient in operating and collaborating with unmanned systems, enhancing overall operational readiness.

Conclusion

In Conclusion, the current decentralized, uncoordinated approach to acquiring and operating unmanned systems necessitates a shift towards a directed, coordinated, and standardized regime. With the Indian Defence Forces rapidly moving towards MUM-T capabilities, immediate action is required to bridge existing gaps, define standards, and establish a structured organizational framework. By embracing a holistic approach and implementing the suggested structure, India can not only keep pace with global advancements but also position itself as a leader in Manned-Unmanned Teaming technologies. The time for this transformative journey is now, if we have to prevent resource loss and capital wastage in the future.

An AH-1Z Viper (top) and an MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter conduct Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance Training