As the Army looks at operating in the future battlespace, the world of ammunition needs to rethink how it operates and how it will support complex dynamic operations. By as soon as 2030, the battlefield may change dramatically to be A2AD environments with DIL communications that deny GPS navigation. These battlespaces will have no extended resupply, minimum personnel, and a minimum footprint. Technology will have a heavy reliance on Internet of Things (IoT), Field Additive Manufacturing / CNC production, Robotics/Drones, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Micro-reactors. To address the challenges of this new environment, it is essential to begin developing an approach that starts to establish the concepts, strategies, and technologies for managing the ammunition supply chain and ensuring warfighter support in the future battlespace.
There is a need for a small and modular convoy of vehicles moving around the battlespace providing support, referred to as an ammo caravan. The objective of the ammo caravan is to be always on the move and provide ammunition resupply when and where it is needed. The caravan should include many of the standard functions of a supply point – issue, turn-in, inventory control, and stockage objectives. The ammo caravan should not remain in a single location for greater than 24 hours and should be able to be mobile in under 6 hours – which implies no physical on the ground storage of materials for more than a few hours, and those hours will be primarily used to reorganize or restock inventory and materials.
The unit would be very lightly manned and rely on substantial amounts of automation, autonomy, and robotic services. The unit would be mostly autonomous and not necessarily tied to a single combat unit but would be matrixed, with many such ammo caravans moving around the battlespace and the closest/best-suited providing support as required. Most of the delivery of ammunition would be through autonomous aerial and ground distribution vehicles, all of which would be organic to the ammunition caravan. The ammo caravan would utilize new techniques to manage inventory, which would allow optimization of space and ease of issue through custom-configured shipping units appropriate for the delivery mode and conveyance limitations. The management of materials would be done via a supervisory AI system, which would be tracking, optimizing, and managing all the inventory, distribution resources, personnel, equipment, and raw material across for the ammo convoy. A higher-level AI supervisory control would be responsible for building strategy packages which would be communicated to the ammo caravans when they re-establish communications every few days, either directly or via communications relays and store-and-forward shuttles.
To achieve this concept and the outlined objectives, several different technology solutions will be required – addressing complexity, dynamics, control, and efficiency from both the information and material management perspectives. CSI believes that some of these technologies may include:
- Supervisory control technologies to manage and optimize all the resources, including inventories, field production/manufacturing, equipment, people, and MHE.
- A physical container/dispensary system that allows efficient storage, put-away, pull, and distribution of materials of various sizes, weights, and handling constraints. This system may resemble the JMICs but provide greater modularity, stackability, composability, and configuration.
- Autonomous distribution technologies for highly autonomous ground and air delivery of munitions replenishment shipments in a wide variety of environments and mission sets. These technologies include denied navigation not only to the customer units but also the mobile ammo caravan at a different location from the starting location.
- Field ammunition production/manufacturing/assembly using robotics, autonomy, additive manufacturing, and CNC material processing. The capability needs to be mobile, robust, highly reconfigurable, and capable of integrating components and parts which cannot easily be field produced (circuits, liquids, sensors, timers, etc.).
As the battlespace continues evolving, the United States Army must grow its current technology and perspective while continuing to cope with the new challenges that may arise.
About the Author: Dr. Todd Carrico is the President and CEO of Cougaar Software, Inc. and a recognized expert in artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, and intelligent distributed systems.