Germany-based defense technology company Rheinmetall has launched its first Australian research program aimed at developing sovereign robotics and automated vehicle technologies.
Dubbed Autonomous Combat Warrior (ACW), the program will see Rheinmetall’s Australian, German and Canadian development teams work alongside research teams from Australia’s Defence Science and Technology (DST) group, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).
Development will be based on Mission Master vehicles developed by Rheinmetall Canada. These vehicles incorporate an eight-wheel drive, skid-steer, electric, unmanned platform operated in either robotic, semi or full autonomous driving modes. These vehicles can be fitted with various payload modules including cargo, protection, medical and surveillance variants.
The autonomous driving vehicle capability, or “A-kit”, currently integrated into the Mission Master provides the base software architecture for all future stages of the ACW research program and provides the autonomous capabilities including robotic vehicle control (robotic control or semi-autonomous); “follow me” control (semi-autonomous); simultaneous localisation and mapping); autonomous waypoint navigation (semi or full autonomous); and GPS allowed/denied navigation (semi or full autonomous).
Rheinmetall is also upgrading two Wiesel 2 digital vehicles with drive-by-wire architecture and the Rheinmetall Canada autonomous driving A-Kit package. These vehicles, when upgraded with Australian advanced autonomous applied research under the ACW program, will be used to demonstrate the vehicle-agnostic and integrated payload capabilities of Rheinmetall’s Advanced A-Kit.
“ACW’s goal is to fundamentally change the way in which land vehicles support military operations by transforming a vehicle from tool to teammate to provide currently unachievable levels of soldier protection, support and tactical advantage,” Rheinmetall Defence Australia managing director Gary Stewart said.
“This will see the Australian development of the next generation of land vehicle systems warfighting capability, with an emphasis on developing trusted automated systems which provide human-machine teaming and optional crewed control.”
Rheinmetall noted the program would focus on the automation of driving capabilities as the company only develops systems that are strictly compliant with the rules of engagement of its customers.
“Rheinmetall does not develop, manufacture or market fully autonomous weapon systems. Rather, Rheinmetall is convinced that humans must retain the power of decision and therefore rejects fully autonomous weapon systems that deprive humans of the power to decide whether or not to use weapons against other humans,” the company said.
The company will be working with the DST Group under a 5-year strategic R&D alliance agreement. The partnership also includes R&D around novel concepts and technologies that support the new Boxer 8×8 combat reconnaissance cehicle capability Rheinmetall is delivering to the Australian defense force under the $5.2 billion Land 400 Phase 2 program.