BAE Systems’ Semi-Autonomous Software Speeds Combat Decisions in Contested Environments

by Matthew Beres, Airborne Retrofit & Modernization Analyst, Forecast International.

Distributed Battle Management System. Photo: DARPA

BAE Systems recently announced the development of semi-autonomous software under the Distributed Battle Management program.  The DBM program of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency provides timely and relevant information to operators and pilots when communication is not assured so they can better manage and control air-to-air and air-to-ground combat in contested environments.  DBM technology enables pilots to continue operations when satellite communications and tactical datalinks are shut down – a likely scenario in the modern battlefield, and one that militaries are preparing for.

The new technology provides shared situational understanding, coordinated objectives for teams of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles in communications-denied environments, and compressed, prioritized data transfer when communications are available.  It also allows for roles to be interchanged.

The automated technology delivers automated decision aids that help operators make better, faster combat decisions.

During a recent 11-day flight test, DARPA, in association with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), successfully demonstrated the capabilities of its DBM technology for the first time during seven live flights that included a mix of live and simulation runs and simulation-only runs. The tests included BAE’s Anti-Access Real-time Mission Management System (ARMS) and the Contested Network Environment Situational Understanding System (CONSENSUS).  ARMS, a distributed adaptive planning and control software, provides near real-time mission capabilities that allow warfighters to engage air-to-air and air-to-ground targets and search airspace. CONSENSUS is a distributed situational understanding software that provides pilots and operators with weapon targeting guidance and mission awareness through a common operational picture by fusing raw data from multiple platforms and sensors.

World technology leaders such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have warned against the possible repercussions of advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous technologies. The U.S. military is investing in autonomously operated transport helicopters, although they will not likely transport humans any time soon.

Autonomous technologies and AI are also highly susceptible to cyber attacks and electronic warfare, posing questions regarding their reliability in a battlefield rife with such destructive capabilities.  But despite any worries, AI and autonomous technology will remain integral assets of worldwide military operations. China has already declared that it will aggressively pursue these technologies, leaving other nations with no choice but to counter their advancements. Those with the best AI and autonomous technologies will have more efficient and more deadly military capabilities.

The rise of AI and autonomous technology will be paralleled by growth in complementary technologies such as offensive and defensive electronic warfare and cyber warfare technology.

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