UK’s Dstl Acquires First Fleet of Autonomous Ground Vehicle Systems

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD)’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has announced the purchase of five new autonomous ground vehicle systems.

Two contracts, worth ~£5 million, have been awarded to HORIBA MIRA and QinetiQ to produce a number of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) and enabling autonomous systems as part of advancing MOD Transformation Fund commitments for the British Army.

Project Theseus, the development and operational field experimentation of autonomous logistic resupply systems, was announced by Secretary of State (SofS) for Defence, following the progress made by the Innovative Autonomous ‘Last Mile’ Challenge led by Dstl.

The contracts form part of early de-risking work to increase the MOD’s understanding of the capabilities and limitations of these systems in areas such as mobility, vulnerabilities and safety; enabling the Army to take the project to the next stage, pending a further significant competition for Project Theseus to be launched by Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) later this year.

“These contracts are a demonstration of the continued commitment to progressing autonomous systems as innovative approaches for developing future Land force logistic capability. Under the Autonomous Last Mile Challenge, we have conducted a number of in-depth trials both in the UK and with our partners in the US. These UGV systems will be used to undertake a series of technical evaluations and user utility assessments with the British Army and other users to rapidly advance MOD’s understanding under the ‘Prototype Warfare’ agenda”, said Dstl’s Autonomy Lead, Peter Stockel.

The three all-terrain VIKING 6×6 Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs), to be supplied by HORIBA MIRA, will be delivered in summer 2020. These wheeled UGVs are capable of carrying up to 750kg of supplies to frontline troops using advanced AI-based autonomy with GPS-denied navigation.

“Autonomous systems present the British Army with game changing capabilities, redefining how we will conduct future operations. Building on more than a decade of experience in deploying autonomous technology into military applications, HORIBA MIRA has applied an agile and fast track approach that will enable the army to field this equipment and meet its critical objectives. We are immensely proud that VIKING, with its market leading capability, has been selected to support this critical programme”, said Robert Mohacsi, Senior Commercial Manager for Defence Systems at HORIBA MIRA.

The two TITAN Unmanned Ground Systems, jointly developed by Estonia’s Milrem Robotics and QinetiQ, will then arrive through autumn 2020. This system is based on Milrem’s THeMIS (Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry System) tracked UGV.

Milrem-QinetiQ THeMIS Titan UGV

“Working to the principles of “Prototype Warfare”, as adopted by the British Army, the Joint Tactical Autonomous Resupply and Replenishment (JTARR) risk-reduction contract is a prime example of how QinetiQ is taking an agile approach to delivering solutions into the hands of the military for evaluation whilst continuing spiralled capability development”, said Mike Sewart, Director for Research Experimentation and Innovation for QinetiQ.

The vehicles will be used by Dstl to conduct scientific and user trials in collaboration with the Combat Service Support Training and Development Unit (CSS TDU) based in Aldershot, and other British Army units. The work will seek to increase understanding of system potential and limitations to reduce the risks specific to acquisition of the Joint Tactical Autonomous Resupply and Replenishment (JTARR) capability, but will also develop deeper knowledge for the Army’s future employment of more advanced autonomous system capabilities.

“Robotic and Autonomous Systems will provide commanders with more options to support a Land force operating at greater reach, dispersal and higher tempo. We look forward to ongoing collaboration with Dstl, wider Defence, and our strategic and commercial partners as we drive forward this ground-breaking and exciting project”, said Brigadier Darrell Amison, Head of Capability for Combat Service Support.

Experimentation and testing of these two different systems will inform further understanding of the capabilities that these autonomous systems can provide and implications for their integration with the wider defence logistics system.

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