Unmanned Systems and the 4IR

Juma Al Kaabi, CEO, of the UAE's EDGE defence group's UAV manufacturer ADASI explains how technology is shaping future combat capabilities.

Juma Al Kaabi, CEO of ADASI says AI is the key accelerator (Image ADASI)

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, have fundamentally altered the way military force is exerted and deployed, and have rather efficiently levelled many previous overmatch capabilities on the battlefield. However, there is still much room for innovation as far as UAVs and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) are concerned.

The rapid pace at which Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies have advanced in recent years has brought with it a swathe of smart robotics systems. Stemming from innovations in the commercial sector, these systems have been effectively leveraged in military scenarios. They offer today’s forces an unprecedented range of tactical tools that often mean greater security and proximity for troops.

For instance, situational awareness for on-ground military units is at an all-time high today, thanks to the small hand-controlled UAVs that can scan and survey the vast perimeters in which they operate from great, often undetectable heights, to identify hostiles using thermal and audio sensors.

If this technology is applied on the ground, unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) can easily detect and disarm otherwise near-impossible to spot improvised explosive devices (IEDs) - a relatively recent native defensive innovation. And in situations that mandate the deployment of force, drones can identify and neutralise specific targets almost instantly.

4IR has brought with it a plethora of new technologies, enabling unmanned systems to do more, see more, be less visible, be quicker, travel further, and be armed with heavier artillery than was previously possible. For that is where real overmatch exists. Indeed, a new generation of UAVs with superior manoeuvrability, low radar observability, and enhanced autonomies, is currently underway.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is clearly the key accelerator behind the development of unmanned systems. AI makes it possible for software to learn from its environment so that it can make predictions and submit recommendations. However, for AI to progress, it needs to collect as much data as possible. The more data you have, the easier it is to gain new insights and even predict what will happen in the future.

With the large number of data points in use within any given embedded system, having the high- performance infrastructure to manage and process that information, which in turn fuels AI, gives unmanned systems access to on-demand intelligence that can be used for operational activities. Improved ability to recognise and respond to their environment would undoubtedly be a key feature of future unmanned systems.

Advanced robotics and autonomous systems are emerging technologies that constitute the operations of unmanned systems with advanced capabilities, including in the area of operating with limited human supervision or control. Robotic and autonomous systems are being improved in several ways, including through advances in propulsion, precision take-off and landing, and navigation capabilities – supported by the development of advanced computer vision systems and radar technologies. Integration of advanced sensor technologies in robotics and autonomous systems is likely to enable such systems to perform a greater range of functions, particularly with respect to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).

The integration of man and machine working in tandem here is a salient point. This is an area of autonomous innovation that could offer new levels of interoperability. Through syncing the operational objectives of foot soldier with UAV, armoured vehicle with UGV, or even warship with unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), military units will be able to realise the possibilities of modern unmanned integrated military capabilities.