Infantry: Target Droids Makes A Difference


January 11, 2017: Since 2010 American combat troops have used RHTTs (Robotic Human-Type Target) mobile target devices to improve their combat shooting. Since then new tech and feedback from troops led to the second generation RHTTs which can operate on realistic terrain and do so autonomously. RHTT 2.0 is mounted on a four wheel base and contains software that can employ many different scenarios to represent known or potential enemy battlefield tactics. The RHTT moves at up to 12 kilometers an hour, the fastest enemy troops will move in combat. The software can be programmed to use realistic variable speed as well as different reactions to being fired on. This made troops even more effective in combat than did RHTT 1.0. The latest version uses laser sensors to avoid obstacles and move convincingly about in typical combat environments.

The American use of this device began in 2010 when the U.S. Marine Corps spent $57 million to buy over a thousand "Rover" armored robots (based on the Segway personal transporter) from an Australian firm that invented the device in 2007. This was RHTT 1.0 and these robots serves as realistically moving targets for troops practicing their marksmanship. Armor protects the mechanical and electrical portions (against 7.62mm and 5.56mm bullets) of the Segway, which carries a lifelike mannequin atop its mechanical components and battery. The lightweight wheels are easily replaceable. Each Rover weighs 150 kg (330 pounds) and were 180 cm (nearly six feet) tall. Rover used GPS and a laser rangefinder that enabled it to follow general instructions from the instructor. Rover's navigation computer had pre-installed patterns of movement, and new ones could be created and stored by instructors. The precise movements of Rover were unpredictable, teaching troops a battlefield reality.

When troops hit the mannequins on a Rover, the Rover stops and the mannequin moves to a horizontal position. The mannequins are not bulletproof, but are instrumented and take hundreds of hits before needing replacement. Instructors can program a group of Rovers so that if one is shot, the others will scatter realistically. Depending on the type of terrain it is operating over, the battery powered Rover will last eight hours or more getting shot at before a recharge is necessary.

The main market for Rover was initially police and paramilitary organizations but the success the marines had with what came to be called RHTTs led the U.S. Army and SOCOM to adopt them, as well as the Australian military. The military was unsure if RHTTs would improve combat marksmanship but soon discovered that it doubled the ability of troops to hit moving targets in combat and for some situations tripled effectiveness. RHTTs are now regularly used to train troops headed for a combat zone to better deal with the unpredictable nature of urban warfare, and the need to avoid civilian casualties. Improvements like this are not noticed much outside the military but for the troops who acquire better shooting skills with RHTT it is often seen as a lifesaver.