US Army looking to industry to provide solution for carrying equipment
The US Army is looking to industry to provide a solution to the increasing amounts of equipment and supplies that the light infantry squad are carrying into battle. The SMET effort seeks to employ unattended ground vehicle (UGV) robotic technology in an all-terrain platform to address this. Since 2012, the Army has been evaluating industry candidates in various field conditions at Ft Bliss deserts, Ft Benning forests, Alaska cold and Hawaii’s jungle. This has lead to release of a Request for Proposal in which the Army will select four company systems to deliver a number of vehicles to be turned over to field units for further evaluation in tactical conditions. This could lead to a single production selection.
Not surprisingly SMET candidates were well represented at AUSA 2017. The range included tracked, wheeled and, at least one from Robo-Team, that could do either. All electric, diesel/JP8 and hybrid propulsion systems were offered. Control possibilities presented covered wireless soldier directed, “leader-follower” and programmed autonomous approaches. Their common characteristic is their ability to carry loads from soldier’s rucksacks, to mortars and heavy weapons, and even wounded soldiers. Industry representatives MONS spoke with agreed on one point – each SMET design was a trade-off of characteristics and capabilities.
HDT showed it’s wheeled, all electric HUNTER WOLF an evolution of its earlier tracked Protector. Their spokesperson indicated that the shift was partly to address noise concerns in earlier evaluations and the requirement that SMET be able to be tows at 80 kmph (50 mph). Having a 20kW charging generator for the all electric system allows it to provide 3kW exportable power as well.
OinetiQ teamed with the Estonia company MilRem to offer TITAN a rubber tracked electric motor driven UGV that can powered by battery and/or a diesel/JP8 engine. The MilRem system is currently being evaluated by four other armies and has demonstrated its multiple control options including, Kuldar Vaarsi MilRem CEO explained, the ability to autonomously evacuate a casualty. He also pointed out that any SMET needed to have capacities beyond the “requirement” since soldiers will inevitability push it to its limits and beyond. “If there is space,” he shared, “they will use it even if it overloads.”
The approach to SMET by Polaris Defense is widely different from the others. Polaris working with Applied Research Associates (ARA) is proposing an adaption of its MRZR X military ATV that is already widely fielded in US Army infantry brigades. The MRZR is filling many of the SMET roles currently as a manned system. What ARA has done is to add a remote control capability to the fielded vehicle. Matt Fordham, ARA Division Manager indicated that any MRZR could be outfitted and that it could still also be operated by a driver in the vehicle. The Polaris approach would have significant training, logistics, and maintenance/support benefits to the infantry units.
The field tests have been invaluable in better understanding SMET’s capabilities and limitations yet the next tactical trials could be even more challenging.
Stephen W. Miller