Rheinmetall will work with Australian research organisations to develop new and advanced autonomous military vehicles for the country's Autonomous Combat Warrior (ACW) programme.
The project will see Rheinmetall’s Australian, German and Canadian development teams work alongside researchers 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).
The agreement builds on Rheinmetall’s longstanding relationship with DST in the area of simulation and augmented reality. The partnership also includes R&D around novel concepts and technologies that support the new Boxer 8x8 Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle capability Rheinmetall is delivering to the Australian Defence Force under the $5.2 billion Land 400 Phase 2 programme.
The main objectives of the ACW programme are to:
•Develop game-changing autonomous technologies in Australia;
•Leverage Rheinmetall global research and development efforts and existing vehicle platforms and technologies, to fast track the development of autonomous technologies;
•Develop a platform agnostic Autonomous Kit (A-Kit), suited for integration into a variety of road and off-road military vehicles;
•Partner with the Australian research community and local industry with deep technical expertise to solve complex development problems;
•Generate a strong return on investment to the Commonwealth, in the form of employment and sovereign robotics capability; and
•Work with the Army to support its evaluation and strategy development for the use of autonomous vehicles.
Rheinmetall Defence Australia Managing Director Gary Stewart said the programme would lead the Australian development of next generation automated combat vehicle technologies for integration into the family of Rheinmetall vehicle platforms.
“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,” said Stewart. “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 stressed that the programme will only develop systems that strictly comply with the rules of engagement of armed forces, which precludes the development of fully autonomous weapon systems. Rheinmetall says humans must retain the power of deciding whether or not to use weapons against other humans.
Rheinmetall’s contribution to the programme will encompass its Australian, Canadian and German businesses. Research will take place at its Melbourne operations and its new Military Vehicle Centre of Excellence in Redbank, Queensland which is due for completion in the second half of 2020.
Rheinmetall Canada has developed Mission Master vehicles that incorporate an eight-wheel drive, skid-steer, electric, unmanned platform operated in either robotic, semi or fully autonomous driving modes. These vehicles can be fitted with various payload modules including cargo, protection, medical and surveillance variants.
Rheinmetall Landsysteme Germany has more than 20 years of experience in the automation of vehicles and relevant technologies such as drive-by-wire.
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 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 fully 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 Programme, will be used to demonstrate the vehicle-agnostic and integrated payload capabilities of Rheinmetall’s Advanced A-Kit.