Army holds live-fire test of robot missile launcher

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Army holds live-fire test of robot missile launcher
By Ethan Sterenfeld / June 16, 2021 at 5:41 

The Army held a live-fire demonstration of the Autonomous Multi-Domain Launcher, a robotic version of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System that is in the early phases of development, today at Ft. Sill, OK.

A prototype of the AML teamed with a manned HIMARS to fire seven missiles over three simulated missions that were meant to represent the beginning of a large-scale conflict in the Indo-Pacific region, Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, director of the Long Range Precision Fires Cross-Functional Team said on a call with reporters.

Soldiers in the manned HIMARS were able to remotely aim and fire practice rockets from the AML, Rafferty said. The AML was equipped with some of the common robotic software the Army is developing, such as the Warfighter Machine Interface and the autonomy software that powers leader-follower experiments.

The AML retains the HIMARS' ability to be transported by a single C-130 cargo plane, which can use short runways. In the scenario envisioned for the live-fire demonstration, the HIMARS and AML would be deployed to an island chain, where they would be able to target enemy anti-access/area-denial systems at the start of combat.

Soldiers from the 18th Field Artillery Brigade, who normally operate the HIMARS, trained with the AML for two and a half weeks before the live-fire demonstration, said Lucas Hunter, AML project manager at the Combat Capabilities Development Command's Aviation and Missile Center.

In future versions of the AML, the Army could remove the cab of the HIMARS and free up space to increase the system's magazine depth, said Jeffrey Langhout, director of the Aviation and Missile Center. This would allow it to carry more of the missiles and rockets than the HIMARS, which is based on a five-ton truck, already fires, or it could enable the system to fire missiles that are currently used by other services.

"It just gives us more options moving forward about what types of missiles we can move where," Langhout said.

The Army has expressed interest in a land-based anti-ship missile as it prepares for possible high-end combat against a near-peer competitor in the Indo-Pacific region.

Existing missile and rocket pods could be adapted for the AML at an affordable cost through engineering change proposals, rather than a more expensive process that could be needed to redesign launchers, Langhout said.

The Army hopes to keep costs low on the AML, Rafferty said. Autonomous or remotely operated systems could limit the number of soldiers needed for an artillery formation and save money.

An unmanned artillery system might require less protection than a manned system, which could reduce cost and weight, Rafferty said. The mechanical similarity to the HIMARS, including a shared fire control system, could reduce development and sustainment costs.

There is no program of record yet for the AML, but more advanced prototypes could be built, and possibly introduced to the operational force, in the next two to four years, Rafferty said.

The use of the Army's common robotics software will limit software development costs, said Michael Cadieux, director of the Ground Vehicle Systems Center. Common Army software, most of which has been developed for other robotic systems, powers the controller and autonomous capabilities for the AML.

Rather than develop an entire autonomy software package for the AML, the Army only needs to develop new software for tasks that have not been previously automated, such as changing positions after firing a round, a tactic known as "shoot-and-scoot."