Modern military engagements increasingly take place in complex and uncertain battlefield conditions where attacks can come from multiple directions at once, and in the electromagnetic spectrum and cyber domains as well. U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps dismounted infantry squads, however, have been unable to take full advantage of some highly effective multi-domain defensive and offensive capabilities that vehicle-assigned forces currently enjoy—in large part because many of the relevant technologies are too heavy and cumbersome for individual Soldiers and Marines to carry or too difficult to use under demanding field conditions, says Americanmilitaryforum.
To help overcome these challenges and help ensure U.S. squad dominance over adversaries in the decades to come, DARPA has launched the Squad X Experimentation (Squad X) program. “Through Squad X, we want to vastly improve dismounted squad effectiveness in all domains by integrating new and existing technologies into systems that squads can bring with them,” said Maj. Christopher Orlowski, DARPA program manager.
“The squad is the formation with the greatest potential for impact and innovation, while having the lowest barrier to entry for experimentation and system development. The lessons we learn and the technology we create could not only transform dismounted squads’ capabilities, but also eventually help all warfighters more intuitively understand and control their complex mission environments.”
Squad X intends to combine off-the-shelf technologies and new capabilities under development through DARPA’s Squad X Core Technologies (SXCT) program, which was launched specifically to develop novel technologies that Squad X could integrate into user-friendly systems. SXCT shares Squad X’s overarching goal of ensuring that Soldiers and Marines maintain uncontested tactical superiority over potential adversaries by exploring capabilities in four areas: precision engagement, non-kinetic engagement, squad sensing and squad autonomy.
DARPA wants to design, develop, and validate system prototypes for a combined arms squad. Overmatch adversaries through the synchronization of fire and maneuver in the physical, electromagnetic spectrum, and cyberspace domains.
DARPA goal is to have realtime coordination of a squad with its flying and ground based drones and to have all relavant sensor data being presented in a useful way. DARPA wants to use the sensors and information to help the squad cut through the fog of war to be able to move quickly and effectively eliminate threats within 1000 meters.
Squad X seeks to design, develop and validate system prototypes for combined-arms squads. The program intends to lay the foundation for breakthrough technologies and capabilities that would:
- Improve shared situational understanding of the multi-domain operational environment: physical, electromagnetic and cyber
- Increase the time and space in which squads can maneuver through optimized use of physical, cognitive and material resources
- Shape and dominate the battlespace through synchronization of fire and maneuvering in all three domains
Under the SXCT (SXCT) program, DARPA envisions future supersoldiers using advanced technologies, such as augmented reality (AR), to intuitively understand and control their complex mission environments and enable them to combat advanced adversaries all across the globe. DARPA has awarded Lockheed Martin a $10.6 million contract to start work on Phase II of the Squad X Core Technologies program, which is intended to deliver the kind of situational awareness available to command posts to smaller deployed units.
SQuad X Core Technologies Improving Capabilities for Dismounted Soldiers and Marines
DARPA’s Squad X seeks to enable the humans in the squad to be increasingly effective in future complex and uncertain environments. Dismounted infantry squads, have so far been unable to take full advantage of some of these highly effective capabilities because many of the technologies underlying them are too heavy and cumbersome for individual Soldiers and Marines to carry or too difficult to use under demanding field conditions.
To address this application lag, DARPA’s Squad X Core Technologies (SXCT) program aims to develop novel technologies that could be integrated into user-friendly systems that would extend squad awareness and engagement capabilities without imposing physical and cognitive burdens. The program, whose overarching goal is to ensure that Soldiers and Marines maintain uncontested tactical superiority over potential adversaries, recently awarded Phase 1 contracts to nine organizations.
“Our goal is to develop technologies that support a three-dimensional common operating picture leveraging input from integrated mobile sensors, as well as the ability to organically locate and identify friendly forces and threat locations in near real time,” said Maj. Christopher Orlowski, DARPA program manager.
“The Phase 1 performers for SXCT have proposed a variety of technologies that, in the future, could provide unprecedented awareness, adaptability and flexibility to dismounted Soldiers and Marines and enable squad members to more intuitively understand and control their complex mission environments.”
DARPA has selected nine organizations to start developing novel technologies that could enhance squads’ ability to collaborate, understand their surroundings and act effectively.
SXCT is pursuing research in the following four technical areas:
- Precision Engagement:
Precisely engage threats out to 0.6 mile (1,000 meters), while maintaining compatibility with infantry weapon systems and without imposing weight or operational burdens that would negatively affect mission effectiveness. Capabilities of interest include distributed, non-line-of-sight targeting and guided munitions.
- Non-Kinetic Engagement:
Enable the rifle squad to disrupt enemy command and control, communications, and use of unmanned assets to ranges in excess of 300 meters at a squad-relevant operational pace (walking with occasional bursts of speed). Capabilities of interest include disaggregated electronic surveillance and coordinated effects from distributed platforms.
- Squad Sensing:
Enable the rifle squad to detect line of sight and non-line of sight threats from 1 to 1000 meters at a squad-relevant operational pace. Capabilities of interest include multi-source data fusion and autonomous threat detection.
- Squad Autonomy:
Increase squad members’ real-time knowledge of their own and teammates’ locations to less than 20 feet (6 meters) in GPS-denied environments through collaboration with embedded unmanned air and ground systems. Capabilities of interest include robust collaboration between humans and unmanned systems.
Collaborative Navigation Techniques
Leidos is developing state of the art advancements in GPS-denied collaborative navigation with its Georegistration and Ranging for Accurate Intra-Squad Localization (GRAIL). The goal of GRAIL is to demonstrate high-accuracy positioning and navigation capability in GPS-denied conditions for squads comprised of dismounted warfighters, unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). GRAIL incorporates advancements in individual unit positioning and inter-unit ranging to form a unified squad collaborative navigation solution.
As part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Squad X Core Technologies program, the GRAIL development goal is to achieve six-meter absolute individual and collective position accuracy in GPS-denied environments, while limiting the size, weight, and power (SWaP) burden of any additional equipment on the warfighter. In order to achieve this accuracy, dismounted warfighters collaborate with each other as well as unmanned systems moving in squad formations. Positioning accuracy in the collaborative framework is dependent on multiple factors including squad size, unit spacing, and unit formation.
Methodology and Key Innovations
Positioning in GRAIL consists of two main components – individual unit positioning using platform-dependent sensor fusion, and collaborative positioning using relative ranging measurements. All units use a UBlox GPS receiver for initialization and truth position reference, and Time Domain PulsON ultra-wide-band radios for intra-squad two-way ranging.
The dismounted warfighter sensor package includes a LORD Microstrain MEMS inertial measurement unit (IMU) with a three-axis magnetometer and barometric altimeter and a PointGrey monocular camera. The UGV chosen in Phase I was a Segway RMP440, and its sensor package includes a KVH tactical grade IMU with three-axis magnetometer, PointGrey stereo and monocular cameras, a Yocto barometric altimeter, and platform-integrated wheel odometry.
The UAV chosen in Phase I was a SteadiDrone Vader quadcopter, and its sensor package includes the same IMU and monocular camera as the warfighter package, a PX4FLOW camera, and a TruSense S200 laser altimeter. All individual units perform sensor fusion using the same software package, Leidos’ Dynamically Reconfigurable Particle Filter (DRPF). The DRPF can model a subset of nonlinear states using a particle filter representation, while efficiently handling linear states using a traditional extended Kalman filter formulation. The DRPF handles sensor inputs using generic interface control documents (ICDs) developed under the All Source Position and Navigation (ASPN) effort in DARPA’s Adaptable Navigation Systems (ANS) program.
The GRAIL collaborative navigation solution is computed using Leidos’ Multi-Agent Non-Gaussian Optimization (MANGO). MANGO incorporates each unit’s individual position estimate and uncertainty along with all available intra-squad relative range measurements and performs nonlinear optimization in order to generate an improved squad position estimate. Multimodal individual unit position estimates, which can form as a result of non-Gaussian sensor measurements such as ambiguous georegistration matches, can be handled through parallel iterations of the optimizer for each high-likelihood modal unit position.
The unmanned systems in the squad provide key advantages which improve their individual unit position accuracy, which in turn greatly reduce warfighter position error when the collaborative solution is computed. In particular, the UGVs higher-quality IMU provides reduced relative error drift relative to the other squad units, while the UAV can provide absolute positioning updates through aerial imagery georegistration. When allowable based on squad tactics, the unmanned assets can be placed in optimal locations where the resultant squad geometry – coupled with the lower individual unmanned system position error – maximizes the performance gains from collaborative navigation.
Leidos conducted both simulation and field tests in Phase I of the program. Simulations were used to analyze system collaborative navigation performance under a variety of conditions including varying squad size, composition, spacing, and formation. Field testing was conducted using a limited squad consisting of five warfighters, one UGV, one UAV, and optionally a static deployable ranging node.
Field tests were conducted in a variety of environments including a suburban office park, an outdoor facility with several warehouse buildings, and a rural farm. Multiple squad formations were tested, based on the fire team and squad formations provided in Field Manual 3-21.8 including the wedge, column, line, and box. Field tests with the limited squad size showed that the collaborative solution typically reduced warfighter position error by 60 percent or more relative to the warfighter standalone solutions. Absolute position errors varied based on formation, but collaborative warfighter accuracy in a variety of tests was on the order of 10 m or better. This accuracy matched expected values based on simulations mimicking the typical spacing and formations with the reduced squad size. Simulation of a full nine- or thirteen-warfighter squad showed that 6 m accuracy should be achievable for a wide variety of squad conditions, with the column formation yielding the most limited estimated spacing envelope allowable to maintain 6 m accuracy