An Analysis of the Strategic and Tactical Risks of Cyberattack Against Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs)

This presentation explores the risks from the strategic to the tactical levels of cyberattack against unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs). As the modern battlefield becomes increasingly digitized, the number of unmanned weapons platforms is only increasing. Utilizing the case study of the newly-announced TEXTRON Ripsaw M5, this analysis explores the risk that UGVs, particularly whose capabilities could replace current armored infantry fighting vehicles, pose when looked at through a vulnerability assessment. Despite TEXTRON’s claims that this technology is “proven” and “hardened,” the U.S. Armed Forces has not fought a true peer competitor since World War II. Therefore, this analysis exploits these claims by identifying five potential vulnerabilities in peer versus peer combat: disablement or hindering of weapons systems or sensors; hijacking of systems to attack friendly forces; potential utilization of compromised sensors by enemy ISR; feeding of false data into sensors and the potential for “Terminator”-esque scenarios if advanced AI control is implemented. The analysis also discussed three historical incidents: from an air defense cannon’s failure which killed 9 South African soldiers; to the compromise of a U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel; to this year’s hacking of F-15 computer systems by ethical hackers which prove that these vulnerabilities are already plausible. Analysis also highlights how current adversary doctrine (particularly Chinese and Russian) is poised to utilize these vulnerabilities in warfare. The climax occurs through a scenario depicting how a theoretical tactical usage of cyberattack against UGVs in combat could result in strategic implications for U.S. forces in the future. The presentation then culminates with three discussion questions: which methods could mitigate the risks posed to UGVs; could the notion of UGVs be more a liability than a positive; and what are some potential advantages of networking in UGVs in cyberwarfare?