Traditionally, humans have been deployed as forward observers to warn of impending weapons deployment and potential attacks by the enemy. The U.S. Army is now considering taking humans out of the line of fire by replacing them with a sensor network that could potentially allow a faster response and permit deployment in more dangerous locations, according to an article on the site nationalinterest.org.
“By eliminating a human forward observer from the loop, this sensor architecture could allow munitions to be fired more rapidly, and the accuracy of the munitions assessed faster,” asserted the Army research solicitation. “It would also allow for the placement of sensors in locations where commanders are unwilling to risk human life, and it could free soldiers to perform tasks only capable of being performed by humans.”
According to the article, using a forward observer—also known as a Joint Fire Support Specialist—takes more time to call in conventional artillery shells, watch the spotting rounds miss the target, and then call in the corrections to the gunners. Using laser- and GPS-guided smart rounds, while exhibiting a higher first-round hit probability, is considered scarce and expensive.
Instead, the article noted that the Army wants a suite of sensors that can call in, quickly and accurately, indirect fire. The Army hopes such as system can identify targets such as tanks and bunkers, communicate with the gunners to adjust artillery salvoes, and confirm the destruction of the target. Such a system could function when GPS is disrupted, as the technology would rely on devices such a gyroscopes, gravimetric sensors, accelerometers and other sensors.
According to the article, in 2018 the Russian Air Force was planning to develop robot forward air controllers to call in airstrikes. The robot’s AI would be able to identify targets and then illuminate them with a laser designator for smart bombs to focus on. However, the article quoted a former Air Force Tactical Air Control Party specialist as stating the Russian robot air controller would not be feasible as it would have to have first-hand knowledge of planned targets and would not be able to keep up with ground troops.