The US Army said it plans to award a contract this month for “hundreds of robotic mules” that will help light infantry units carry gear.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Bodenhamer, product manager of Appliqué and Large Unmanned Ground Systems announced the order after the systems were tested last year by two infantry brigades from the 10th Mountain Division and 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
The six-month assessment for the Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport, or S-MET, included 80 systems from four vendors that were evaluated during home-station training and rotations to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
Soldiers successfully tested the performance of the robotic vehicles to ensure they could at least carry 1,000 pounds, operate over 60 miles in a three-day period, and generate a kilowatt when moving and 3 kilowatts when stationary to allow equipment and batteries to charge.
The tested systems included the Polaris MRZR X, General Dynamics Land Systems’ Multi-Utility Tactical Transport (MUTT), the Howe and Howe RS2-H1, and the HDT Global Hunter WOLF.
At the end of the test, General Dynamics’ MUTT was selected as the preferred system.
The S-MET will begin to be fielded in the second quarter of the next fiscal year, with a total of 624 vehicles in soldiers’ hands by the middle of fiscal 2024, according to the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center.
Soldier feedback led to increasing the S-MET’s carrying capacity and mobility, creating alternative methods for casualty evacuation and robotic obscuration, as well as reducing its noise, said Col. Christopher Barnwell, director of the Joint Modernization Command’s Field Experimentation Division.
The S-MET program is also leveraging modular mission payload capabilities, or MMPs, to expand its functions using a common chassis, Bodenhamer said.
“This is important because this shows one of the linkages between robotics efforts,” he said, adding his office often discusses plans across the Army’s robotics community to prevent replication. “Modular mission payloads is a great example of that synergy.”
In April 2019, the Army held a weeklong demonstration with the add-on payloads at Fort Benning, Georgia, to explore ways to enhance the effectiveness of the S-MET.
Requests for information have already been sent out to industry for two MMP capabilities: counter-unmanned aerial system and another for enhanced autonomy.
The army said it also completed an assessment in March on the Nuclear Biological Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle, or NBCRV, a modified Stryker vehicle with chemical detection sensors.
The assessment, conducted by the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, added new unmanned, surrogate systems to enhance NBC reconnaissance and surveillance. Each NBCRV controlled an unmanned ground vehicle as a wingman and three UAS aircraft, Barnwell said.
Manned-unmanned teaming operations “extended the range, the area of coverage and reduced the risk to the crew and enabled faster reporting of [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] hazards,” he said.
The requirement for the Assault Breacher Vehicle Teleoperation Kit, which is built on an M1A1 Abrams tank chassis, is also set to be finalized this summer after being tested in last year’s Joint Warfighting Assessment.
The kit allows the two-person crew to step out of the vehicle and remotely control it during dangerous breaching operations.
While the gun tube of the tank is removed, it can still launch mine clearing line charges and includes a lane marking system and front-end plowing attachments.