WASHINGTON — As the U.S. military begins to tackle the challenges posed by great power competition and 21st century combat, expeditionary logistics is an area receiving extra attention to ensure troops are more agile and lethal.

That’s why the U.S. Marine Corps and NATO allies will be testing these capabilities in Norway later this month during Exercise Trident Juncture 18. More than 40,000 participants, 130 aircraft, 70 naval vessels and 10,000 vehicles are set to participate in the live-fire and computer-assisted command post exercise.

But some of those vehicles will be autonomous weapon systems that are set to demonstrate their ability to reduce the need for dedicated manpower on often dangerous resupply missions.

Describing the expeditionary logistics experiment, NATO Allied Command Transformation said the “aim of this experiment is to demonstrate the capabilities of autonomous weapon systems, in force protection, building and delivery of supplies to isolated troops, through hazard zones.”

Autonomous systems will also be on display during enhanced logistics base experiments. They are expected to demonstrate the ability of autonomous and automated systems with an aim toward significantly improving military logistics by upgrading services and downgrading manpower.

To test the ability of autonomous weapon systems to protect expeditionary bases, NATO forces will “demonstrate a set-up where unattended ground sensors, shot detection sensors and camera-based sensors are fused and report to a unified user interface on the Command and Control system. The activity will incorporate unmanned ground, air and surface systems in the sensor package. Remotely operated weapon stations will be operated both as sensors and as weapon platforms to engage enemy threats,” according to the alliance.

As with other experiments during the exercise, the point of the drill is to demonstrate how autonomous systems can reduce the number of personnel needed for key expeditionary missions.

Some U.S. and NATO adversaries have taken steps beyond testing autonomous units in exercises. Russian Deputy Minister of Defence Yuriy Borisov confirmed via Russian-state media in May that the country had deployed the Uran-9 armed robot tank in Syria.

Daniel Cebul is an editorial fellow and general assignments writer for Defense News, C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain and Federal Times.

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