A century after it saw the first tanks roll across it, the British Army’s training grounds on Salisbury Plain is playing host to the largest military robotic exercise in British history. Over the next four weeks, the Autonomous Warrior exercise will test over 70 different types of unmanned prototype aerial and ground systems, ending in a battlegroup experiment under simulated combat conditions.
Conceived as a follow up to the Royal Navy’s Unmanned Warrior exercise in 2016, the purpose of the Autonomous Warrior experiment is to test a wide variety of robots in the field, and to find ways to integrate them into present army structures. According to the Ministry of Defence, this includes areas like surveillance, long-range and precision targeting, enhanced mobility and the resupply of forces, urban warfare, and enhanced situational awareness.
However, one of the key goals is to look at how robots can be used to solve the problem of the “last mile.” That is, the bottleneck that infantry and special forces face in getting the food, fuel, medicine, batteries, and ammunition that they need to survive.
The problem is that even though modern, advanced armed forces enjoy sophisticated logistical systems designed to bring them the supplies they need in a timely manner across oceans and continents, the last mile from the end of the supply line to the troops is often a primitive dragging of boxes and bails over rocks and through bushes that the Spartans would have recognized.