UV - Unmanned Vehicles

AUSA 2017: US Army advances robotic mule use

2nd October 2017 - 02:10 GMT | by Beth Maundrill in London

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Ten unmanned systems will be taking part in the US Army’s Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET)programme with trials currently taking place at Fort Benning, Georgia, Shephard has learnt.

Based on the outcome of that event, which is set to conclude on 14 October 2017, the US Army will select up to four platforms and award production orders for up to 20 of each platform for phase two.

Nine vendors with ten systems are taking place in these trails; American Robot Company (AMBOT), AM General, General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS), HDT Expeditionary systems, Howe and Howe Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Qinetiq North America, Roboteam and Polaris teamed with Applied Research Associates.

‘For phase 2, the Army will pursue an Urgent Material Release and issue 16 systems from each selected platform to two Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) locations in 4QFY18. The IBCTs will utilise the systems for a period of twelve months to inform emerging requirements and support future program decisions,’ Bryan McVeigh, project manager, force projection, told Shephard.

‘The IBCTs will utilise the systems for a period of 12 months to inform emerging requirements and support future program decisions,’ McVeigh added.

The contract award to the final four vendors is scheduled for December 2017, testing is then scheduled for January to March 2018 at the Aberdeen Test Centre. 

Team Polaris recently unveiled its design for SMET the MRZR X, an optionally manned variant of its MRZR 4x4 all-terrain vehicle.

Speaking to Shephard, Patrick Weldon, director of advanced technology, Polaris said: ‘We have chosen optionally-manned because the acceptance of unmanned technology is not truly wide spread.

‘[With the MRZR X] soldiers are able to drive to the site need and then use the vehicle in its unmanned capacity.’

The MRZR X is already in use with the US military and other allied forces. Polaris has a production line running for the vehicle and as a commercial enterprise the company will test the unmanned capability at its own proving ground as well as with the US Army.

Weldon noted that the US Army is aiming to keep each SMET unit under $100,000, an MRZR’s commercial price is around $40,000 and while the cost will increase with the addition of unmanned technologies Weldon said it is likely to stay under the $100,000 limit.

Polaris said the MRZR X can meet all four levels of autonomy but for the ongoing trials the US Army is focusing on radio control and teleoperation control.

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin is known to be offering up its Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) UGV, a fully unmanned design. The SMSS could have an advantage over other systems as the US Army deployed four vehicles to Afghanistan for operational testing in 2012 for five months, this however never led to a programme of record. 

Another unmanned offering comes from QinetiQ North America partnered with Milrem on the Titan Hybrid UGV. It is also likely that Roboteam will be placing its Professional Robot (Probot) UGV for SMET.

‘Ultimately, the Army expects to pursue an Army Requirements Oversight Council approval of the SMET requirements and a Material Development Decision in 2QFY19, moving into a Program Of Record (POR) at Milestone C,’ said McVeigh.

‘It is the army's intention to follow the current Other Transaction Authority contract with a production contract to one of the four vendors from the phase two contract in 3QFY19.  Specific quantities and fielding decisions are under development, pending the results of the current demonstration and final requirements,’ he concluded.

Key requirements of SMET include the ability to carry up to 1,000 lbs of equipment, operated for six miles within 72 hours without external resupply, provide mobile power generation capability to a unit and be operable with remote control with options for follow-me, teleoperation and operator control unit.

The US Army was unable to provide details on every system that has been selected for testing but it is likely that AM General could put forward an unmanned variant of its HMMWV. Ambot has developed the Shadow UGV which can conduct follow-me operations.

GDLS is likely offering up its multipurpose unmanned tactical transport (MUTT) UGV. In 2016, the company revealed a new 8x8 variant of MUTT which increased its payload capacity to 1,200lbs from 900lbs on the 6x6 variant, now placing it within the requirements of SMET.

HDT Global offers its own infantry robot, the Protector, which is capable of carrying up to 1,250lbs, stretcher-bearing for two wounded personnel, and remote weapons utilisation.

Howe and Howe Technologies has a portfolio of UGVs built off of the back of first vehicle design, the Ripsaw. 

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