Don’t worry, Maverick: Army chief says unmanned systems won't fully replace pilots

Military Tech

Gen. James McConville.

Army Gen. James McConville (U.S. Army/Sgt. Dana Clarke)

While artificial intelligence and autonomous capabilities remain critical subjects for future military endeavors, the Army's top officer is more interested in optionally-manned systems rather than totally unmanned.


Army Chief of Staff James McConville said on Tuesday that's he's "more into the minimally manned capability" and doesn't "like to say it's either-or" when it comes to unmanned and manned capabilities.

McConville's logic is simple: while the idea of a totally unmanned system may work in some scenarios, you'll probably still want to have at least one person inside any expensive battlewagon just in case things go sideways.

"If we're going to move a large amount of troops — you know, a Ranger unit or something like that going in — I don't necessarily see us putting them in an aircraft and having no one up front, you know?" he said at an Atlantic Council event. "You've got 30 Rangers going somewhere and they look up and there's no one there? You know, like 'Good luck.' I don't see that."

The Army has been pushing forward on the idea of self-operating systems, like the semi-autonomous Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET) — essentially a self-driving pack mule. And Future Vertical Lift, one of the service's six modernization priorities, demands that the defense industry develop vehicles that can partner with unmanned systems and perform unmanned operations if necessary.

At the very least, autonomous technology could help reduce how many troops are needed to operate each system. For example, the pilotless UH-60 Black Hawk would give a pilot inside the ability to toggle between levels of autonomy, freeing them up for other tasks.

As Igor Cherepinsky, Sikorsky's Director of Autonomy, told Military.com, the goal is to "augment the pilots, not replace the pilots."

When it comes to ground vehicles, McConville said, you'll probably still need someone available to help navigate things the autonomous vehicle has trouble with.

"When you look at autonomous vehicles, they have a hard time making left hand turns in traffic," he said. "So you may need to be attentive for that time … Or if you're approaching a difficult thing, you might need to have one person."

Roughly a dozen U.S. troops showing concussion-related symptoms are being medically evacuated from Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, a defense official told Task & Purpose on Tuesday.

Read More

In a Galaxy — err, I mean, on a military base far, far away, soldiers are standing in solidarity with galactic freedom fighters.

Sitting at the top of an Army press release from March 2019, regarding the East Africa Response Force's deployment to Gabon, the photo seems, at first glance, just like any other: Soldiers on the move.

But if you look closer at the top right, you'll find something spectacular: A Rebel Alliance flag.

Read More
The maiden flight of the first CMV-22B Osprey took place in Amarillo, Texas (Courtesy photo)

The first of the CMV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft the Navy plans on adopting as its carrier onboard delivery (COD) aircraft of choice has successfully completed its first flight operations, manufacturer Boeing announced on Tuesday.

Read More
A soldier plugs his ears during a live fire mission at Yakima Training Center. Photo: Capt. Leslie Reed/U.S. Army

Another 300 lawsuits against 3M flooded federal courts this month as more military veterans accuse the behemoth manufacturer of knowingly making defective earplugs that caused vets to lose hearing during combat in Iraq or Afghanistan or while training on U.S. military bases.

On another front, 3M also is fighting lawsuits related to a class of chemicals known as PFAS, with the state of Michigan filing a lawsuit last week against the Maplewood-based company.

To date, nearly 2,000 U.S. veterans from Minnesota to California and Texas have filed more than 1,000 lawsuits.

Read More

GENEVA (Reuters) - North Korea said on Tuesday it was no longer bound by commitments to halt nuclear and missile testing, blaming the United States' failure to meet a year-end deadline for nuclear talks and "brutal and inhumane" U.S. sanctions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un set an end-December deadline for denuclearization talks with the United States and White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien said at the time the United States had opened channels of communication.

O'Brien said then he hoped Kim would follow through on denuclearization commitments he made at summits with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Read More