US Army Abrams tank tested a new ground fire control system

WASHINGTON, US — At the beginning of November last year, the US Army tested a new ground fire control system. The test platform was the M1 Abrams tank of the US Army inventory. Photos from the event have been published on the website of the Visual Information Dissemination Service [DVIDS].

US Army Abrams tank tested a new ground fire control system
Photo credit: DoD

The new fire control system was developed under the Advanced Targeting and Lethality Aided System [ATLAS] program. Some sources in the US claim that it is an artificial intelligence fire control system. However, this is not entirely true. ATLAS has an AI target recognition algorithm but continues to be operated by the tank crew.

This is how ATLAS works: The artificial algorithm recognizes the targets. I.e. infantry, types of heavy combat armored vehicles, or even pickup trucks. On the display inside the ATLAS tank’s cabin, it shows the operator the recognized targets on the battlefield. It is the operator who chooses which target is of interest. The operator releases the fuse and presses a finger on the target display. Only then does the gun turret rotate and take aim at the target.

ATLAS has another additional button on the display in the tank cabin. This is a shoot button. It must also be pressed to produce the tank shot. It is assumed, although there is no evidence yet, that ATLAS is equipped with radars and other sensors. In this way, the artificial intelligence algorithm tracks recognize, and visualizes on the display the images that are intended for the operator.

In fact, the tested AI algorithm can be integrated into any electro-optical system of a combat vehicle. It doesn’t have to be American-made. For all these reasons, ATLAS is more properly defined as an AI algorithm than an AI fire control system.

US Army Abrams tank tested a new ground fire control system - atlas
Photo credit: DoD

What else can we say about the AI algorithm in the fire control system? It is assumed, and already operational, that ATLAS will provide real-time data to senior military leaders during an operation. Also, the algorithm processes infrared video feeds to visualize the blur on the display.

Beginning, two years ago, when ATLAS was tested for the first time, the opinion of the soldiers participating in the test was critical. But in the last two years, that has changed as the developer has upgraded and made ATLAS easier to work with.

To appreciate the usefulness of ATLAS, we need to present the real situation in tank management today, when the system is only a test product and not a mass integration. Today, a tank commander has to use electro-optical sensors manual. The commander manually scanned the battlefield by rotating the turret and looking through the periscopes. When he chooses one of the targets, he commands it to be attacked. The gunner is the one who executes the command of the commander.

However, the shooter also has a tough task. It is his decision exactly what to use. Either the tank’s 120mm main gun or the turret-mounted coaxial machine guns. When the gunner makes this decision, he sends a command to the ballistic computer in the tank. This command is necessary because the computer decides the type of ammunition based on the ballistic analysis.

No matter how good the tank crew is, no matter how many years it has worked, it is assumed that with the help of ATLAS, all this activity will go at least twice as fast as the standard method currently used. Although they are complex military platforms, tanks are no more complex than a fighter jets. This is why time is of the utmost importance. In reality, two opposing tanks of the same class differ in very few characteristics. That’s why whoever sees the goal first wins, as the statistics say.

That is why some experts call ATLAS not an algorithm with artificial intelligence, but a “time weapon”. But, think about it – ATLAS can even reduce the tank crew. If the system is “allowed” to shoot, then the shooter remains redundant. Thus the crew will become three. If the ammunition loader is also eliminated, the crew becomes two. In fact, China claims that the latest fourth-generation tank being developed by Beijing has a two-man crew. Western experts suggest that if this is true, it is likely that the Chinese have also integrated an AI algorithm.

And where is the shooter? For years, Soviet and Chinese tanks have only had three-man crews, as ammunition loading is automatic.

In this regard, ATLAS is a product of DEVCOM’s C5ISR Center in Aberdeen and its Weapons Center in Picatinny.


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