An Open Approach Moves Squad Mobility to the Next Level

A vehicle technology evolves along with the needs of the U.S. and its allies.

Watch any newscast and you’ll see that technology is used now more than ever on the battlefield. And with how readily available some technology—like drones—has become, the U.S. and its allies can’t rely on equipment superiority anymore. Warfare is constantly evolving, and in order to address the ever-changing characteristics of the current battle space, as well as the creation of new battle domains such as cyberspace, the tools and technology available to our forces must evolve as well.[1]  Industry needs to provide a fast-paced, continuous level of innovation that does not lose sight of the key capabilities that increase the effectiveness of our joint forces.

Switching between manned and unmanned operation will be fast and intuitive for the soldier.

Figure 1: Polaris MRZR

The U.S. Army has proposed in Force 2025 “Win in a Complex World,” a novel concept that we will not necessarily know who our enemy is, nor will we know the details of their weapon system. It suggests that unlike today’s Army Lieutenant, who has a specific combat arms branch, with assigned weapons like the M-1, the new Lieutenant will face multi-domain warfare, where the enemy presents all different dilemmas to exert control of the battlespace: kinetic, information, cyber, precision weapons (and the ability to defeat them).

To quote the Army Operating Concept: “Modern military engagements increasingly take place in complex and uncertain battlefield conditions where attacks can come from multiple directions at once.”[2]

At the heart of any modern military engagement has been the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps squad. The squad has formed the nucleus of combat operations from WWII to present.

“The squad has formed the nucleus of combat operations from WWII to present.” (Image source: DARPA Squad X Proposers Day April 19, 2016)

Agility as Complexity Grows
The agility of the squad is critical, especially as the complexity of the battlespace continues to increase. Maintaining total situational awareness of the many warfare domains, now including space and cyberspace, is critical to the decision-making ability of the combatant commander as well as the squad. Not only is the best situational awareness generated at the squad level, but operations are becoming decentralized in particularly complex environments, urban environments for example. The squad must have new, lighter-weight, more portable systems in order to leverage the rich situational awareness provided by new technologies.

According to DARPA, “the goal is to speed the development of new, lightweight, integrated systems that provide infantry squads unprecedented awareness, adaptability and flexibility in complex environments, and enable dismounted Soldiers and Marines to more intuitively understand and control their complex mission environments.”[3]

Achieving total situational awareness across multiple domains cannot burden our squads. More and heavier equipment reduces mobility, creating the need for more protective armor, and thus even further reducing mobility. Improving situational awareness also can’t overtax the available power systems or require excess batteries and more fuel, further hampering mobility.

Technology advancements should provide critical situational awareness while increasing the mobility and agility of our squads across the domains within which our adversaries will present multiple dilemmas. These technologies need to be presented to our Soldiers in familiar, intuitive ways in order to increase the speed of adoption and beneficial utilization of the capabilities.

We developed a platform at the high level of mobility expected from Polaris, while injecting new capabilities and the ability to roll in future technology improvements as the pace of innovation quickens. The open architecture design allows for our autonomy partner—and Polaris—to accelerate adoption of new technologies. If it looks and feels like the current MRZR (Figure 1), yet has added capabilities, the familiarity may speed the soldier’s adoption and integration of these new capabilities.

Addressing Integration and Cost Concerns
The MRZR can incorporate continual product improvements, and still meet or exceed key performance characteristics of the MRZR. The modular design of the vehicle allows for flexibility of configurations and mission payloads. And as a vehicle OEM, Polaris provides the systems engineering expertise to understand how payload affects vehicle performance and electrical design to keep up with those needs.

Polaris has successfully demonstrated that a militarized commercial off-the-shelf (mil-COTS) vehicle can be quickly integrated to perform manned and unmanned operations at a fraction of the cost for heavy-end developmental programs. The flexible and modular vehicle in a high-volume production environment can quickly convert to an autonomous-ready vehicle for any autonomy company the government chooses to integrate, test, and deploy. With the maturation of Polaris vehicle technology, the power needs to support the above missions and autonomous capability can finally be met, without additional logistics burdens, providing the solider and squad with swarm capability at a fielded, in-production price point.

In the automotive industry, communication and diagnostics among vehicle components is accomplished via a controller area network (CAN) bus. CAN is the physical layer of SAE J1939 protocol, which is a particular set of standards laid out by the Society of Automotive Engineers for vehicle bus messaging. These standards define the method of transferring data between the various controllers on the vehicle network (e.g. engine controller, brake controller, transmission controller, etc.). J1939 is widely used in industries ranging from agriculture and construction to commercial and off-road vehicles.

Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems
For robotics applications, another form of communication is used. It is known as the Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems (JAUS). JAUS is an open architecture defined and developed by the U.S. Department of Defense for use in the research and development of autonomous systems. JAUS has its own standards for messaging, known as JAUS Reference Architecture, which a developer must follow when designing new components. Just as CAN is the industry standard for automotive messaging and diagnostics, JAUS is the industry standard for military autonomous messaging and diagnostics.

Creating a Polaris vehicle with autonomous capabilities meant developing a method that would enable JAUS and CAN messaging to interact with each other—a translator to convert autonomy inputs into vehicle outputs. Equipping future military vehicles with this technology will render them “remote control / autonomy ready”—a major advancement over the current state-of-the-art. Switching between manned and unmanned operation will be fast and intuitive for the soldier.

In summary, this open approach allows the squad more control as to when to use autonomy, and to what level—remote-control, follow-me, full autonomy—depending on the mission. If no autonomy is required, the MRZR is still able to be driven in its original way and fulfill its missions as required. The vehicle has familiarity, and transcends current state-of-the-art robotics kits in terms of integration, simplicity, versatility, durability and reliability. Undue burdens are avoided by accounting for size, weight, power and cost factors early on, and squad mobility is advanced and enhanced.

Amber Malone is an Advanced Technology Platform Manager and Architect at Polaris Industries. She holds a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from St. Cloud State University and is an MBA Candidate from The Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. She has multiple patents in electronics in off-road and powertrain applications.



[1] (The U.S. Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World, TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1, 2014)



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