Autonomous systems face obstacles says Defense Science Board task force

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Despite having a significant and positive impact on U.S. military operations worldwide, unmanned systems are underutilized due to "obstacles" within the Defense Department that are "inhibiting the broad acceptance" of these systems and DoD's ability to more fully realize their benefits. That is the conclusion of a Defense Science Board task force report (.pdf) released Aug. 30.

The main obstacles according to the report, are "poor design, lack of effective coordination of research and development efforts across the military services, and operational challenges created by the urgent deployment of unmanned systems to theater without adequate resources or time to refine concepts of operations and training."

With the end of combat operations in Iraq and the winding down of combat operations in Afghanistan, the DSB task force was asked to study relevant technologies, ongoing research, and the current autonomy-relevant plans of the military services.  

To increase the use of autonomy in DoD systems, the DSB task force recommends:

  • DoD should embrace a three-facet (cognitive echelon, mission timelines and human-machine system trade spaces) autonomous systems framework to assist program managers in shaping technology programs, as well as to assist acquisition officers and developers in making key decisions related to the design and evaluation of future systems.
  • The assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering should work with the military services to establish a coordinated science and technology program guided by feedback from operational experience and evolving mission requirements.
  • The under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics should create developmental and operational test and evaluation techniques that focus on the unique challenges of autonomy (to include developing operational training techniques that explicitly build trust in autonomous systems).
  • The joint staff and the military services should improve the requirements process to develop a mission capability pull for autonomous systems to identify missed opportunities and desirable future system capabilities.

Greg Slabodkin is a freelance reporter.

For more:
- download the DSB study, "The Role of Autonomy in DoD Systems" (.pdf)

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