EUROSATORY 2022: As House lawmakers weigh pushing the Army to explore the “feasibility” of adding autonomy to Strykers, the Army’s ground vehicle leader is warning that adding the capability to the armored troop carrier wouldn’t be a simple, straightforward process.
“It’ll be challenging to do on Stryker because Stryker is not a drive-by-wire platform,” Brig. Gen. Glenn Dean, program executive officer for ground combat systems, told Breaking Defense in an interview at Eurosatory. “So we’re gonna have to do a lot to adapt the platform to take an autonomy kit, to even begin the experimentation.”
A subcommittee markup from the House Armed Services Committee’s FY23 National Defense Authorization Act had a provision that directed the Army to assess the “advisability, feasibility, and estimated cost” of developing and prototyping Strykers with autonomous, optionally manned or advanced operator assistance capabilities.
Dean explained the vehicle’s current steering and throttle are mechanically linked, as opposed to having electrical systems sending signals that maneuver the vehicle, otherwise known as “drive-by-wire.” In order to have autonomy, “what you need to be able to do is be able to have a computer send a signal that says ‘go faster, go slower, turn left and right,’ and be able to have the engine and steering adjust.”
Therefore, adding autonomy to Strykers would be a two-step process, he said. The Army would need to add electrical controls to the vehicle first, then add the autonomy. To kickstart that effort, the Army could look at its by-wire active safety kit that is already installed on some of its trucks. That kit allows the mechanical steering and driving to be controlled electrically.
“To put autonomy on Stryker, we’re gonna have to develop the equivalent kit — it’s probably something that would evolve from that [by-wire active safety kit],” Dean said. “That gets in the door, now we can begin the experimentation.”
The Army is currently developing autonomous ground vehicles through its Robotic Combat Vehicle program, one of the service’s top modernization priorities. It’s also testing autonomous vehicle capabilities through its Project Origin technology demonstrator, which has fought alongside soldiers at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., and Green Berets at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. The service is also planning to include autonomy onto its appropriately named future Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle.
The committee wrote in its draft bill that it believes the Stryker is ripe for autonomous considerations due to the Army’s “commitment to the Stryker vehicle and its apparent adaptability to a variety of tactical functions.”
“We’re trying to figure out how much autonomy you need, what’s available, what’s really mature now,” Dean said. “So applying it [autonomy] to more tools that we can experiment with, that’s valuable … We’re really in a space where we need to learn more.”