AI-powered Squad X to go to battle alongside warfighters

WASHINGTON. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Squad X Experimentation program aims to demonstrate a warfighting force with artificial intelligence as a true partner.

Photo courtesy of DARPA.

In a recent field test, the program worked with U.S. Marines at the Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., to track progress on two complementary systems that allow infantry squads to collaborate with AI and autonomous systems to make better decisions.

Squads testing the Lockheed Martin system wore vests fitted with sensors and a distributed common world model moved through scenarios transiting between natural desert and mock city blocks. Autonomous ground and aerial systems equipped with combinations of live and simulated electronic surveillance tools, ground radar, and camera-based sensing provided reconnaissance of areas ahead of the unit as well as flank security, surveying the perimeter and reporting to squad members’ handheld Android Tactical Assault Kits (ATAKs).

These exercises followed experiments in 2018 with CACI’s BITS Electronic Attack Module (BEAM) Squad System (BSS) and Lockheed Martin’s Augmented Spectral Situational Awareness and Unaided Localization for Transformative Squads (ASSAULTS) system. The two systems focus on manned-unmanned teaming to enhance capabilities for ground units, giving small squads battalion-level insights and intelligence.

According to officials, the Squad X program has moved through development and is already along the transition path. At the most recent experiment with the BSS, service representatives used the system to locate and identify objectives in real time.

With the conclusion of third experiment, the CACI system is moving into Phase 2, which includes an updated system that can remain continuously operational for five or more hours. Lockheed Martin will conduct its next experiment.

CACI’s BEAM system is already operational, and the Army has committed to continue its development at the completion of Squad X Phase 2. The Army is set to begin concurrent development of the Lockheed Martin ASSAULTS system in fiscal years 2019 and 2020, and then, independent of DARPA, in fiscal year 2021.