Army battlefields of today might not look like something out of a Star Wars movie yet, but a new initiative called Mercury is likely to see them bear more than a passing resemblance to one by 2035.
The Future Soldier vision aims to heavily exploit emerging technologies including robotics, autonomy and AI, along with novel sensors and effectors. It will also look to capitalise on the tactical advantages of hybrid electric and electric vehicles.
“Mercury is a procurement concept in which we are trying to share what we want to develop, in concert with Industry. Key to this will be systemic protection – in other words a number of things both on and off combat vehicles" Lieutenant Colonel Hill, SO1 Joint Concepts, Future Force Development
The Army hopes to integrate these technologies to form its vision for Mercury. In doing so, the Army is also seeking to work more closely with industry by setting out its big challenges, then working together to resolve them, testing and deploying technologies as they mature.
This vital fusion of cutting-edge science, technology and development will build a rolling pipeline of innovative ideas and capabilities, establishing closer industrial partnerships.
To tackle the complex threats of tomorrow, this ‘super-charging’ of innovation will also need to link in with innovation across air, sea, space and cyber domains to keep pace with the evolving threats from potential adversaries.
The Mercury idea is driven by the increasing need for Land Forces to operate in a dispersed manner, protected by a system of autonomous sensors and effectors including un-crewed ground vehicles (UGVs) and un-crewed air systems (UAS) integrated across data networks.
This constellation of sub-systems will provide a protective ‘bubble’ across a land force increasingly equipped with electrically powered combat vehicles.
“Such a portfolio of technology will provide systemic multi-layered protection to combat vehicles, allowing us to deal with opponents in a range of ways" Lieutenant Colonel Hill, SO1 Joint Concepts, Future Force Development
Forming a catalyst for Army-wide transformation, and in concert with industry, the vision will offer a proving ground for novel technologies and enable their spiral exploitation across the Army’s entire Equipment Programme.
Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Hill, SO1 Joint Concepts, Future Force Development, said: “Mercury is a procurement concept in which we are trying to share what we want to develop, in concert with Industry. Key to this will be systemic protection – in other words, a number of things both on and off combat vehicles, so that could be things such as localised drones and un-crewed Ground Vehicles (UGVs) acting as ‘loyal wingmen’, or access to a wider set of effects delivered from over the horizon.”
Behind all this, is the increasing proliferation of novel and disruptive technologies, coupled with the evolving future operating environment, which demands changes to the way the British Army engages, constrains and, if necessary, fights its adversaries.
To achieve this, the Army must focus and cohere a panoply of technological innovations, whilst fixing on a long-term vision of how these technologies can most usefully be applied. Failure risks falling behind its adversaries and overmatch on the future battlefield.
Lt Col Hill added: “Such a portfolio of technology will provide systemic multi-layered protection to combat vehicles, allowing us to deal with opponents in a range of ways.
Mercury is all about looking at the art of the possible, and timely development of technology to keep us one step ahead of the competition”