The MUMT concept describes the interaction between humans and uninhabited vehicles at the tactical level for the achievement of specific missions and tasks. MUMT is applicable across the land, sea and air domains.
Nonetheless, it is arguably the air domain that has been the most enthusiastic adopter of the MUMT concept.
MUMT is driven by several factors.
At the dawn of the third decade of the 21st century, software has reached such a level of sophistication that algorithms can perform a growing range of mundane and routine tasks normally performed by a human.
This software evolution has enabled tremendous advances in unmanned technology.
These have unfolded since the end of the Second World War, but which have gathered notable momentum since the early 2000s.
The development of unmanned technology was helped in no small part through the adoption by the US and her allies of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology to support military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2001 and 2003 respectively.
While UAVs had been in routine service with the US and Israeli militaries, and others, since the 1960s it was operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom that saw unmanned aircraft assume an increasing burden of missions traditionally performed by inhabited platforms.
This encompassed ISR missions like aerial surveillance but evolved into kinetic air-to-ground missions using UAVs like the General Atomics Predator series that deploys air-to-surface missiles and guided bombs.
Such UAVS, or Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) as they are now dubbed, perform two useful roles; precise yet discreet attacks on high value targets in areas where the air defence risk to inhabited aircraft may be deemed too high, or where the use of such platforms could cause unacceptable political fallout.
While it may be ethically and practically unacceptable to remove the human entirely from the battlefield and hand it over to robots, technological advances discussed above are allowing unmanned vehicles to be developed to accompany personnel and to act in a supporting role assuming aspects of their mission previously performed by another person. This also serves the goal of reducing the number of personnel on the battlefield, helping to reduce casualties, and the logistical demands exacted by humans, although unmanned vehicles will still require fuel, spare parts and maintenance.
A 2013 US Army Strategy Brief described MUMT as “the synchronised employment of soldier, manned and unmanned air and ground vehicles, robotics and sensors to achieve situational understanding, greater lethality and improved survivability.”
MUMT can be performed at several levels.
At its most basic, an unmanned platform like a UAV can live-stream video to an attack helicopter or close air support aircraft letting the crew see potential targets, but from a safe distance.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s Standardisation Agreement (STANAG) 4586 refers to this type of MUMT as Level-1, which covers the indirect reception of data sent from an uninhabited vehicle.
The indirect aspect of this is the fact that the uninhabited vehicle may be transmitting its data to several platforms simultaneously. STANAG-4586 encompasses four other MUMT levels:
• Level-2 covers the direct communication between an uninhabited vehicle and an inhabited platform, the former of which specifically provides data for that platform.
• Level-3 control sees the inhabited vehicle not only receiving the direct transmission of data from the uninhabited vehicle, but also controlling that vehicle’s sensor payloads.
• Level-4 control allows the inhabited platform to control all aspects of the uninhabited vehicle’s operation sans launch and recovery.
• Finally, Level-5 covers Level-4 functions but with the inhabited aircraft supervising the uninhabited vehicle’s launch and recovery.
It is important to note that STANAG-4586 refers not only to UAVs, but also to uninhabited vehicles in general.
These levels of operation are therefore as relevant to MUMT for uninhabited ground, surface and underwater vehicles as they are for UAVs.
• MUMT Tactics
MUMT is vital as it enables personnel to see an environment and situation potentially beyond the range of their sensors, which might be too dangerous to enter at that moment with no risk to themselves.
This deepens situational awareness.
Deepened situational awareness leads to better and quicker tactical decisions.
Referring to the Level-4/5 criteria the human operator may then task the uninhabited platform to deliver kinetic or electronic effects.
As well as keeping the human operator potentially out of harm’s way, MUMT can facilitate pre-emptive fires: a UAV controlled from an attack helicopter one hundred nautical miles (185 kilometres) downrange may spot a small column of armoured vehicles on the move in the direction of a weakly defended part of the blue force’s frontline.
Using Level-4/5 control, the helicopter crew can task the UAV to launch its organic air-to-surface weapons to engage the vehicles, while initiating discreet jamming of the armoured column’s communications to isolate the red force.
In a matter of minutes, this inhabited/uninhabited combination may have stopped a potentially dangerous threat to the blue forces.
Interestingly, the MUMT concept allows uninhabited platforms to support deception and surprise.
Using Level-4/5 protocols, a human operator could employ these vehicles to create a distraction to occupy red forces while blue forces manoeuvre into an advantageous position.
For example, swarms of uninhabited surface vehicles could attack “en masse” elements of a task group using kinetic and electronic effects to engage red force ships and jam their communications and radar.
Meanwhile blue force ships manoeuvre into position to attack the red force vessels from an unexpected direction.
Technology is at the heart of the MUMT.
Alongside the uninhabited vehicle, its sensors and weapons, robust and secure wideband communications linking this vehicle to the inhabited platform is a sine qua non for the successful employment of MUMT.
A rich tactical picture including optical and signals intelligence requires wideband communications using conventional and satellite radio frequency communications to carry the traffic from the uninhabited vehicle to the inhabited platform and vice versa.
This link needs to be agile, moving seamlessly between line of sight and beyond line of sight conduits as and when the mission requires it with minimal latency.
These communications must be capable of mobile ad hoc networking, and be secure employing communications/transmission security protocols like frequency hopping and encryption.
The advent of cognitive communications, where software defined radios automatically adapt to their environments based on the prevailing electromagnetic conditions and learned experience from previous scenarios, will help immeasurably in developing the communications links which can make level-5 and above MUMT a reality.
Likewise, AI/ML will have a major role to play supporting MUMT.
There is a fine line drawn between ensuring MUMT brings genuine benefits for the human operator while avoiding them becoming deluged with information, much of which maybe superfluous.
Processors outfitting uninhabited vehicles may be able to ‘sort’ through the data the platform is collecting.
For instance, if the operator is only interested in tracking a couple of vehicles within part of a city, processing could filter out all additional imagery, merely sending pictures of these vehicles and details of their location.
As well as reducing operator workload, this would reduce the burden on the communications systems by only sending relevant data to the inhabited platform as opposed to torrents of irrelevant or unrelated information.
Similarly, a human operator may have tasked an unmanned vehicle with watching a building that will be engaged at a particular moment to support the commander’s intent.
AI algorithms could then alert a tired or stressed human operator that they had inadvertently sent coordinates to attack the wrong building, warning them before the strike is launched, potentially helping to avoid killing or injuring civilians, or destroying civilian infrastructure.
The overriding aim of MUMT is to make the human’s job easier, and not more demanding or dangerous.
With this in mind, it is imperative that MUMT partnerships deliver information or enable effects on behalf of the human operator in such a way that it does not deprive the latter of their situational awareness, or cause spatial disorientation.
Commonality is linked to the issue of software.
Over the next ten years and beyond scores of uninhabited vehicles will enter service with NATO and allied nations.
At the same time, it is unlikely that these nations will perform large-scale operations unilaterally.
As a result, there is an imperative to ensure that MUMT software developed in the coming years fosters true interoperability.
For example, an Italian attack helicopter may need to work with a Polish UAV.
Perhaps initiatives like STANAG-4586 can be enhanced further to prescribe interoperability standards for MUMT protocols and software.
This issue is also germane to the manufacturers of platforms inhabited and uninhabited alike.
Is there a case for the industry wide adoption of MUMT protocols and standards to enable plug-and-play MUMT interoperability?
Other domains could hold promise.
For instance the All-Purpose Structured Eurocontrol Surveillance Information Exchange (ASTERIX) standard developed by Eurocontrol, the European Union Air Navigation Safety Organisation, provides a data language protocol used by Air Traffic Control (ATC) radars from an array of different manufacturers to plug easily into ATC data communications networks.
Could such an approach hold promise for MUMT?
• MUMT Adoption
While the advent of MUMT may seem distant, it is already being employed by some platforms.
The US Army’s McDonnell Douglas/Boeing AH-64D/E Apache/Guardian helicopter fleet is noteworthy.
It can already perform manned-unmanned teaming from Level-2 up to Level-4.
Elsewhere in the air domain in May 2020 Boeing unveiled its Airpower Teaming System (ATS) nicknamed the ‘Loyal Wingman’.
The ATS concept is built around a UAV that can be configured for a range of missions and has been designed from the outset to work with inhabited aircraft.
The UAV uses AI software and will be controlled from an inhabited aircraft.
The Loyal Wingman will support the inhabited aircraft by performing a range of missions including the collection of ISR data supporting the mission or acting as a decoy to absorb fire if the inhabited aircraft is attacked.
The ATS programme is being undertaken by Boeing’s Australian subsidiary and could be acquired by the Royal Australian Air Force over the next decade to support its inhabited fleet.
The Franco-German Future Combat Air System sixth-generation combat aircraft initiative is expected to include MUMT collaboration to enable the pilot to control UAVs directly from their cockpit (Figure 1).
Manned-unmanned teaming is being explored in the land environment to support mounted and dismounted forces by gathering ISR data, and potentially delivering electronic and kinetic effects under human supervision to support manoeuvre (Figure 2).
Interest in MUMT concepts has been witnessed in the maritime domain.
The US Navy is planning to commence its LUSV (Large Uninhabited Surface Vehicle) programme in 2023.
These vessels would work closely with conventional warships carrying sensors and weapons for the collection of ISR and the delivery of effects downrange from a task group.
Unsurprisingly, another application for MUMT in the maritime domain is the dangerous mine clearance mission.
The MMCM (Mine Countermeasures) programme involves the Marine Nationale (French Navy) and the Royal Navy.
It is developing an array of integrated uninhabited systems for the clearance of mines and explosive ordnance at sea. Deliveries of these systems should commence in 2022.
As the above examples indicate, MUMT is no longer conceptual; it is now a reality on the battlefield. Future conflicts will inevitably include an ever-deepening quantity and quality of manned-unmanned teaming.
The twin technological trends of AI and ML coupled with advances in military platform technology will facilitate the adoption of MUMT concepts in an increasingly cost-effective manner.
This will be a double-edged sword.
While technologically advanced nations will be at the leading edge of MUMT development and uptake, the increased ubiquity of this technology in the future could place it in the hands of non-state actors and countries of concern.
Nations must move MUMT concepts forward while ensuring that this potentially game-changing technology does not fall into the wrong hands.