The U.S. Army plans to award the S-MET (Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport) contract this month to produce hundreds of “robotic mule” vehicles, the service announced.
The S-MET vehicles will help light infantry units carry gear and are part of a line of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) the service is developing.
The S-MET contenders were tested last year by two Army infantry brigades from the 10th Mountain Division and 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). The six-month assessment included 80 systems from four vendors that were evaluated during home-station training and rotations to the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
These four vehicle platforms that participated in the assessment are MRZR-X system from Polaris Industries Inc., Applied Research Associates Inc. (ARA) and Neya Systems LLC; the Multi-Utility Tactical Transport (MUTT) from General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS); the Hunter Wolf from HDT Global; and the Grizzly RS2-H1 from Textron Systems/Howe and Howe Technologies.
During the assessment, the Army soldiers successfully tested the performance of the S-MET 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.
“We were able to demonstrate that and got lots of Soldier feedback,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Bodenhamer, product manager of Appliqué and Large Unmanned Ground Systems, which falls under the Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support.
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. Requests for information have already been sent out to industry for two MMP capabilities: counter-unmanned aerial system (C-UAS) and another for enhanced autonomy.
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.
About U.S. Army S-MET program:
With the Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET, S-MET) program, the U.S. Army seeks to procure a small unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) that can follow foot soldiers, can transport their equipment and supplies, and charge batteries for their electronic gear. The program was earlier called Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport.
The SMET program aims to lighten Soldiers’ loads by providing infantry brigade combat teams (IBCTs) a robotic “mule” capability. By unburdening Soldiers of some of their physical load, the SMET improves their physical and cognitive capabilities.
S-MET’s basic operational capabilities include:
• Unmanned/optionally manned system
• Carries 1,000 lbs., reducing Soldier weight burden by 100-plus pounds each when in support of a rifle squad;
• Operate for 60 miles within 72 hours;
• Have a silent run-capability generating 3 kilowatts of power when stationary and 1 kilowatt while moving.
The vehicle will be also able to recharge batteries of Soldier’s night vision goggles (NVGs), radios, and other electronics by using onboard power.
The future capability will feature modular mission payloads tailoring the SMET to specific mission needs, such as dismounted engineer mobility systems; remote weapon stations (RWS); casualty evacuation (CASEVAC); and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and reconnaissance.
The initial candidate platforms participated in the S-MET Phase I Assessment held in September 2017 at Fort Benning, Georgia. The evaluation enabled the Army to learn about each of the candidate platforms’ capabilities and obtain operational feedback based on Soldiers’ interactions with the candidate S-MET systems.
Based on the results in November 2017, the Army narrowed to four contractors to evaluate their respective platforms during a 12-month (later reduced to seven-month) S-MET Phase II Technology Demonstration.
These four vehicles are MRZR-X system from Polaris Industries Inc., Applied Research Associates Inc. (ARA) and Neya Systems LLC; the Multi-Utility Tactical Transport (MUTT) from General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS); the Hunter Wolf from HDT Global; and the Grizzly RS2-H1 from Textron Systems/Howe and Howe Technologies.
These four vehicles were then again evaluated by the Army during a 12-month (later reduced to seven-month) S-MET Phase II Technology Demonstration. Phase II called for each of the four selected contractors to produce 20 platforms. Four of the produced S-METs supported safety testing, Commercial-Off-the-Shelf (COTS) operator manual verification, Instructor and Key Personnel Training, and Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) development.
Upon completion of safety testing, the Product Management Office for Applique and Large Unmanned Systems issued eight of each respective prototype S-METs to IBCTs within the 10th Mountain and the 101st Airborne Divisions in the first quarter of the Fiscal Year 2019 for the seven-month Phase II Technology Demonstration. Results from the Technology Demonstration informed program decisions and further solidified S-MET TTPs.
Army S-MET Program Contenders:
Team Polaris MRZR-X
Team Polaris MRZR X platform is an optionally manned UGV platform offered by Team Polaris for the Army S-MET program. The team consists of Polaris Industries Inc., Applied Research Associates Inc. (ARA), and Neya Systems LLC.
The MRZR X is based on the Polaris MRZR all-terrain vehicle (ATV) platform already used by the U.S. military and more than 25 allied countries. The MRZR X incorporates advanced unmanned systems technology from ARA and the “pioneering and unsurpassed” autonomous systems behavior of Neya Systems.
The MRZR X is the only optionally manned platform out of the four Army S-MET contenders. Team Polaris has demonstrated the automatic launch and recovery of a micro drone, the use of a multispectral imaging system, and the integration of federated networks on the MRZR X vehicle.
General Dynamics MUTT
The Multi-Utility Tactical Transport (MUTT) is a family of UGV platforms developed by General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS).
The variant participating in the SMET assessment is the 8×8 wheeled variant. Also available are 4×4 wheeled, 6×6 wheeled, and tracked variants.
The 8×8 MUTT has a length of 116 in, a width of 70 in, gross vehicle weight (GVW) of 3500 lbs, and a payload capacity of 1200 lbs. The system has an export power of 3 kW. The modes of operation are tether control, remote control with 200m LOS range, teleoperation, and semi-autonomous operation.
HDT Global Hunter WOLF
HDT’s Hunter Wheeled Offload Logistics Follower (WOLF) is a rugged 6×6 load-carrier UGV for dismounted infantry.
Closely matching the mobility of infantry, the Hunter WOLF can traverse narrow trails, steep slopes, and dense jungles. Using only internal fuel, the vehicle has a 100 km (60 miles) range and 72-hour endurance. The vehicle’s JP-8 / electric hybrid powertrain provides both a “silent drive” and “silent watch” capability.
HDT has been developing the Hunter WOLF since 2012. The system has participated in more than a dozen evaluations with the U.S. Army, Marine Corps (USMC), and the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).
According to the company, the system’s modular architecture and full compliance with the Army’s interoperability protocols makes the vehicle easy to upgrade, using a wide variety of mission kits, and keeps life cycle costs low.
Textron Grizzly RS2-H1
Grizzly RS2-H1 is a high torque, hybrid diesel-electric drive, tracked UGV developed by Textron Systems and its subsidiary Howe & Howe Technologies.
The system combines Howe & Howe Technologies’ robotic ground vehicle experience with Textron Systems’ expertise in manufacturing and autonomy. According to Textron, the vehicle is designed to operate in the toughest of terrains while offering unprecedented endurance, reliability, and mobility.
Grizzly has a zero-turn radius and is capable of maneuvering through complex and confined locations. The modular design of this system and its low-profile base platform allows integration of numerous mission packages including an improvised explosive device (IED) defeat rake, counter unmanned aircraft systems (C-UAS), remote weapons systems (RWS) and “follow-me” autonomous control.
The vehicle is also capable of offloading up to 4 kW of power for mission-critical equipment.