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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Army unveiled new automated vehicle technology this week that could be deployed before self-driving cars hit city streets.

Why it matters: More than half of all battlefield casualties occur when soldiers are delivering fuel, food or other supplies in combat zones. AVs could reduce that risk.

What's new: This week at Texas' Fort Bliss, the Army demonstrated the first 10 driverless trucks it is developing for convoys, one of several robot-vehicle projects underway.

  • The leader-follower platoons would have a pair of drivers in the first truck, followed closely by a half dozen or so unmanned trucks.
  • 60 additional trucks will be deployed at two other U.S. military bases over the next year, giving soldiers an opportunity to work with them and develop tactics and procedures they can transfer to the battlefield.

The big picture: The Pentagon's fiscal 2020 budget proposal includes $3.7 billion in research and development of "unmanned and autonomous technologies," including autonomous weapons and unmanned battle ships.

  • About $350 million is for the Army's AV research, one DOD source tells Axios — a fraction of what carmakers spend annually.
  • Fun fact: The Defense Department has been working on AV research for decades, and its 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge launched the careers of many execs who are now racing to bring commercial AVs to market.

Of note: The Army's engineering challenges are different and, in some ways, more difficult...

  • There are no high-definition maps of war zones.
  • Roads may not even exist — and if they do, they might be impassable or change from day to day.
  • If there are road signs, they're often damaged or misleading.
  • Digital infrastructure in the form of 5G isn't likely to be available or accessible.

The backdrop: The truck platoon deployment is faster than expected, after Army Secretary Mark Esper, impressed by a demonstration, asked last year to push the timetable forward, according to National Defense magazine.

  • Like other AV developers, the Army wants to start racking up real-world miles to collect data that will make its AVs even better.
  • The original plan was to put 300 autonomous trucks into service in 2025. To bring the program forward, the Army pared down its original list of 45 requirements for AVs to 15 must-haves, Trucks.com reported.
  • The plan now is for production to ramp up starting in 2021, per National Defense magazine.
  • Oshkosh Defense received a $49 million contract in June 2018 to outfit its trucks with autonomy kits. Lockheed Martin is the systems integrator.

What to watch: As part of a broad modernization effort launched in late 2017, a Next-Generation Combat Vehicle team in Michigan is working on an "optionally manned fighting vehicle" to replace the Army's aging workhorse, the Bradley fighting vehicle.

Go deeper: Helping autonomous vehicles develop a "sixth sense"

Go deeper

House passes $768 billion defense spending bill

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The House approved a $768 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the 2022 fiscal year in a bipartisan 316-113 vote on Thursday.

Why it matters: The annual bill, which authorizes Pentagon spending levels and guides policy for the department, would require women to register for the military draft, among other provisions.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Republicans’ secret lobbying

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The five Senate Republicans who helped negotiate and draft the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill have been privately courting their Republican colleagues to pass the measure in the House.

Why it matters: House GOP leaders are actively urging their members to oppose the bill. The senators are working to undercut that effort as Monday shapes up as a do-or-die moment for the bipartisan bill.

CBC members nix border visit

A Haitian migrant carries a toddler on his shoulders today as he crosses the Rio Grande River. Photo: Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images

Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus weighed visiting the U.S.-Mexico border this week to investigate the conditions faced by Haitian migrants and protest allegations of inhumane treatment by U.S. agents.

Why it matters: It's a thorny proposition both in terms of timing and messaging. Going assures a new wave of negative headlines for President Biden amid sinking popularity. And with congressional deadlines in the coming days over infrastructure, a possible government shutdown and debt-limit crisis, Democrats can't afford to lose any votes in the House.