Rheinmetall announced its first Australian research and technology programme on 27 February. Dubbed Autonomous Combat Warrior (ACW), the programme will involve Rheinmetall’s Australian, German and Canadian development teams working alongside the Defence Science and Technology (DST) group, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). The aim is to develop advanced sovereign robotics and automated vehicle technologies, which will create a local automated military vehicle capability.
Rheinmetall Defence Australia Managing Director Gary Stewart explained the programme would lead the Australian development of next-generation automated combat vehicle technologies for integration into the family of Rheinmetall vehicle platforms now under construction for the Australian Defence Force (ADF). “ACW’s goal is to fundamentally change the way in which land vehicles support military operations by transforming a vehicle from tool to teammate to provide currently unachievable levels of soldier protection, support and tactical advantage […] This will see the Australian development of the next generation of land vehicle systems warfighting capability, with an emphasis on developing trusted automated systems which provide human-machine teaming and optional crewed control.”
The programme will focus on the automation of driving capabilities. Rheinmetall only develops systems that are strictly compliant with its customers’ rules of engagement: it does not develop, manufacture or market fully autonomous weapon systems. The company is convinced that humans must retain the power of decision to decide whether or not to use weapons against other humans. Rheinmetall’s contribution to the program will focus the required research at the company’s Melbourne operations and its new Military Vehicle Centre of Excellence in Redbank, Queensland, due for completion later this year.
Rheinmetall Defence Australia is working with DST under a five-year strategic R&D agreement to work collaboratively in advancing automated vehicle systems. The agreement builds on Rheinmetall’s longstanding relationship with DST in simulation and augmented reality and also includes R&D around novel concepts and technologies that support the new BOXER 8x8 Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle capability Rheinmetall is delivering to the ADF under the $5.2 billion (€3.1 billion) Land 400 Phase 2 programme. The company has developed the MISSION MASTER vehicle – an eight-wheel drive, skid-steer, electric, unmanned platform operated in either robotic, semi- or fully-autonomous driving modes. These vehicles can be fitted with various payload modules, including cargo, protection, medical and surveillance variants.
Rheinmetall Landsysteme in Germany has over twenty years’ experience in vehicular automation: its system safety and system architecture competence is derived from more than ten research projects and relevant technologies, such as drive-by-wire, have been developed to a uniquely high level of maturity. This underscores Rheinmetall's status as a leader in automation technologies. The Autonomous driving vehicle capability, or ‘A-kit’, currently integrated into MISSION MASTER provides the base software architecture for all future stages of the ACW research programme and establishes autonomous capabilities, including robotic vehicle control (robotic control or semi-autonomous); ‘follow me’ control (semi-autonomous); simultaneous localisation and mapping; autonomous waypoint navigation (semi or full autonomous); and GPS allowed/denied navigation (semi or full autonomous).
Rheinmetall is also upgrading two WIESEL 2 digital vehicles with drive-by-wire architecture and the Rheinmetall Canada autonomous driving A-Kit package. These vehicles, when upgraded with Australian advanced autonomous applied research under the ACW programme, will be used to demonstrate the vehicle-agnostic and integrated payload capabilities of Rheinmetall’s Advanced A-Kit.
ACW’s research and development objectives are to:
• Develop game-changing autonomous technologies in Australia;
• Leverage Rheinmetall global research and development efforts and existing vehicle platforms and technologies, to fast track development of autonomous technologies;
• Develop a platform-agnostic A-kit, suited for integration into a variety of military vehicles;
• Partner with the Australian research community and local industry with deep technical expertise to solve complex development problems;
• Generate a strong return on investment for the Commonwealth, in the form of employment and sovereign robotics capability; and
• Work with the Army to support its evaluation and strategy development for the use of autonomous vehicles.