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Vehicles, Sensors and Mobility

By Leo McCloskey, VP of Marketing at Echodyne

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The meaning of the word “vehicle” is adapting to include anything that moves in airspace, surface and subsurface domains. This definition becomes further nuanced between human-piloted and machine-piloted vehicles. It is the machine-piloted (or uncrewed or autonomous) category that draws our attention. The daily reports from Russia's war in Ukraine attest to the outsized role of Uncrewed Systems (UxS) and their capabilities against counter-UxS technologies and systems.

For ground vehicles, a contributing dynamic is the reconsideration of the Air Defense architectures. The Short-Range Air Defense (SHORAD) and related architectures rely on a highly cooperative system of systems to deploy appropriate defensive capabilities and munitions against enemy air targets. Within these architectures, a very small number of ground radars create large zones of situational awareness and generate precision data that informs decisions to deploy forces and systems.

These highly capable portable radars require a fixed position for skilled operators to follow detailed setup instructions and begin operations. If these ground radars disappear, situational awareness rapidly deteriorates, and effector options lack the geospatial precision to be effective. These ground radars are expensive (>$30 million), vulnerable, and indispensable, the sine qua non of such defensive architectures.

One of the lessons from Ukraine is the use of one-way attack drones specifically engineered to detect active emitting sensors, like ground radars, and destroy them. The Shahed-238 (Russian MS-237) turbo variant (238) has a range of 1,000 km and a top speed of 600 km/hr (370 mph) with an optional radar-homing head. At several hundred thousand dollars each, the Shahed-238 is less expensive than a cruise missile but far more agile. Expending dozens of such drones against vital-to-system ground radars is easy enemy calculus, especially when the realized gain of deteriorated blue-force situational awareness is so great.

The response to this changing dynamic is found in Metcalfe's Law. The value of a network, in this case the ground-based air defense system, is equal to the square of the number of users or devices, or in this case, sensor assets. Adapting ground-based air defense architectures to include more sensor assets, higher mobility across all assets, and greater distribution of assets and capabilities across the battlespace inherently increases system resilience, enhances situational awareness, and minimizes the cost asymmetry of inexpensive drones.

Echodyne's EchoShield on a truck

Echodyne's EchoShield on a truck

This architectural adaptation augments the few high-value sensors with tens and hundreds of additional sensors with high degrees of mobility. Common vehicles with standardized mounting platforms using commercial off the shelf (COTS) components and sensors will be core attributes of a reconstituted vehicle fleet. Engaging and encouraging private industry with revamped testing and procurement processes that emphasize standardized fitment, capabilities, cost and supply chain efficiency will go a very long way to achieving financial symmetry.

The revamped architecture will consist of existing vehicles upgraded with new sensor packages, new uncrewed vehicles with advanced sensory capabilities and highly portable sensor packages for the dismounted soldier. The requirements that define crewed and uncrewed vehicle attributes and performance will need to consider impact on and performance of these new sensor and effector systems.

Requirements for and evaluation of vehicle performance will consider new attributes. For crewed vehicles, the primary consideration is force protection which means the vehicle must operate in a manner that both saves and is safe for humans. This basic requirement does not apply for uncrewed vehicles, allowing performance characteristics that might otherwise harm humans.

Foremost consideration is human safety around sensors. Active sensors, like radar, can be harmful and each radar has a minimum safe standoff area while operating. Clever techniques for minimizing the impact of radiating power will no doubt be devised but operator safety will be a key design and operational guide. Imagining multiple uncrewed sensor platform vehicles directed by a single crewed vehicle operating in coordination that maximizes awareness and troop safety. The early examples of this teaming will be sensor vehicles operating in tandem remote weapons stations (RWS) vehicles with upgraded sensor capabilities that collaborate to search, detect, track and destroy enemy UAS with remarkable efficiency.

Contemporary guidelines sourced in MIL-STD-810H define shock and vibration levels for vehicles, which are largely for transportation logistics of electronics equipment not tactical operation. New guidelines that define vibration and shock for vehicles to be fitted with sensor packages must be developed to guide sensor development and manufacturing competencies. Vibration must be well characterized to eliminate potential spectral interference. Designs that minimize the high shock impact will prolong and extend vehicle mission potential. This standardization of vehicle platforms will provide both specialized defense suppliers and private industry more broadly with a performance framework that is highly repeatable and replaceable.

Vehicle manufacturers and system designers will develop new competencies to enable high degrees of mobility. All components of the mobile system must have a shared metric that aligns location and time at high-speed intervals (minimum of 100 Hz). Kinematics is a branch of mechanics that studies the motion of objects and describes position, velocity, and acceleration of objects while ignoring the causes of such motion. The newfound competency in kinematics will create mobile systems with acute awareness of time and space, providing a data foundation for decision-making no less capable than fixed systems and much more resilient.

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