Earlier this month, the UK's Chief of Defence, Gen. Sir Nick Carter suggested that the British Army could fill out its ranks with "robot soldiers." The deployment of robots could address the recruitment shortfalls that the UK has faced in recent years, but could also give its forces an edge in combating the enemy.
One area where small autonomous vehicles could potentially play a large role is in being force multipliers.
Last month the UK's Ministry of Defence showcased new high-tech equipment including the Nano Bug mini drone that can fit in the palm of a soldier's hand. It can travel at speeds of up to 50mph and provides the troops on the ground with a bird's eye view of the battlefield.
It can send information to the soldiers on the ground but also link to the larger ground-based X3 unmanned autonomous vehicle, which has a speed of 12.4mph and a range of 1.2 miles. The X3 can be linked with other vehicles and drones, which can share information along a chain up to 15 miles long. This could ensure that infantry as well as armored vehicles avoid entering a battlefield until it has been properly scouted.
Acting as forward scouts these drones can utilize lasers in the cameras, which can allow soldiers to accurately measure the distance to a target that they can't even see.
Beyond scouting, the drones could be used to ambush the enemy. The tracked X3 isn't armed, but it is fitted with speakers on the front and could be employed in a deception effort.
"Four of these could drive into a treeline, emit the noise and the enemy will think the tanks are in that treeline when they are actually on the other side facing the other direction," Sgt. James Teece, of the Royal Tank Regiment, told the Daily Express newspaper, who added that it can ensure his tanks aren't ambushed.
"It takes away the worry of 'I can't see over there,' whereas if I put that over there, I can see that road now, I know there is nothing coming down it, so you protect yourself and your crew," said Teece.
In addition to the drones, the UK's military also demonstrated a new Android Team Awareness Kit (Atak), which is much like a commercial "track my phone" app but is designed for military use. It can allow troops to see the position of other soldiers in their unit and should be able to address blue-on-blue friendly fire incidents.
During the demonstration at Salisbury Plain last month, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace declared that the British military is in a very real race to develop these tools to help maintain its technological advantage on the battlefield.
"Proliferation of new technologies demands our science and technological technologies to be threat-driven and better aligned to our future needs," said Wallace. "What we do today will lay the groundwork for the decades to come."
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.