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Joint Forces Journal

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VOL. 24 - NO. 39
OCT 20 - 27, 2019
PO BOX 13283
OAKLAND, CA 94661-0283

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Joint Forces Journal is published privately, and in no way is connected with DoD, the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard. This website and the printed newspaper are intended for the members of the Armed Forces and their families. Contents do not necessarily reflect official views of the U.S. Government, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard, and do not imply endorsements thereof. The marital status, physical handicap, political affiliation, or any other non-merit factor of the purchases, user or patron for advertisers prohibited. If a violation or rejection of this equal opportunity policy by an advertiser is confirmed, the publisher shall refuse to print advertising from that source until the violation is corrected. Editorial content is prepared and edited privately, and is provided by the Public Affairs Office of U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard installations. Correspondence and material for publication should be addressed to: Editor, Joint Forces Journal, P.O. Box 13283, Oakland, CA, 94661-0283. Deadline for receiving articles and photos is 3 p.m. Monday for publication on Friday of that week. Joint Forces Journal editorial policy is to use bylines and photo credits where applicable and when submitted.

Army Hopes to Field Robotic Mules to Carry Gear Next Year

Jun 14, 2019
by Matthew Cox
The Army will begin equipping combat units next year with remote-controlled robotic vehicles designed to carry ammunition, water and other heavy combat necessities for soldiers, if officials at Fort Benning, Georgia, get their way.

The Army has been experimenting with the concept of robotic mules for more than a decade. But the performance of four competing prototypes of a Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET) during a recent operational test demonstration with units from the 10th Mountain and 101st Airborne divisions has made believers out of officials from Benning's Maneuver Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate (MCDID).

"The operational test demonstration really showed that the capability is ready," Col. Tom Nelson, director for Robotics Requirements Division at MCDID, told reporters.

The SMET is capable of hauling 1,000 pounds of soldier gear for 60 miles within 72 hours, and will also generate three kilowatts of power to charge the growing number of tactical electronic devices soldiers carry, according to officials at MCDID, the organization that has the lead for developing and testing robotics and autonomous systems designed for Army brigade combat teams (BCTs).

Last November, the MCDID conducted an operation test demonstration involving the four vendor prototypes in the SMET effort -- Polaris Industries Inc., Applied Research Associates Inc. (ARA) and Neya Systems LLC's MRZR X, General Dynamics Land Systems' MUTT, HDT Global Hunter's WOLF, and Howe and Howe Technologies Inc.'s Grizzly. The test equipped one BCT from the 10th Mountain and one from the 101st Airborne with eight prototypes from each vendor.

The units tested them at home station and during training at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, according to Benning officials.

The initial name for the project was Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport. But, when the test ended this spring, it was clear to MCDID officials that issuing such a large vehicle to a squad would end up being a burden.

"The bottom line as to why we said it's not appropriate as a squad system is, although the SMET has broad utility over many conditions ... there are places where we ask our soldiers to go where nothing else can go -- that very complex terrain, jungle terrain, steep embankments, water and dense urban environments," said Don Sando, MCDID director. "There are areas soldiers can walk and crawl and climb that we just couldn't put a vehicle of this size with them."

The plan now is to make SMET a battalion asset so squads, platoons and companies can benefit from the new vehicle but don't have to maintain it.

"The battalion has the capability with its support company to move the SMET from where it is to where it needs to be and not burden the squad or the rifle platoon or the rifle company, for that matter, of having to administratively or tactically get it from where it is to where it needs to be," Sando said.

The SMET is currently going through the requirements approval process in the Army Requirements Oversight Council.

Benning officials hope that process will be complete by this summer, so the Army can begin the down-select process to choose the SMET prototype that will go into production for fielding next year.

"So that is moving quickly because we want to begin fielding in fiscal year 2020," Sando said.

Army officials would not say how many SMETs will be fielded, but the initial plan is to field "a number of systems to a few brigades, to include some of our training centers," he said.

The next step of the SMET effort will involve refining "modular mission payloads" that can be mounted on the vehicle to conduct additional missions, Sando said.

"That's the next logical step -- what other payloads can I put on that ... besides just carrying supplies?" he said. "Can I put sensors on it? Can I put communications relay systems on it? Can I put weapons systems on it? Our answer to all of those is yes."

* * * * *

Photo caption: Soldiers with the 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, New York, test out an unmanned vehicle prototype earlier this year.


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