I just posted a story on Military.com today about how the Army hasn’t given up on its hope that unmanned vehicles will one day carry extra beans and bullets for soldiers on the move.
Infantry officials at Fort Benning, Ga., recently tested unmanned all-terrain vehicle prototypes, made by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, at the Army Expeditionary Warfighting Experiment. Infantry officials maintain that soldiers still carry too much combat kit into battle, so the hope is these six-wheeled robomules will carry extra bullets, water and grenades so soldiers don’t have to hump them. The Army played around with this concept as part of its failed Future Combat Systems program. The service killed two versions of the Multifunction Utility Logistics Equipment vehicle -- the MULE-Transport and MULE-Countermine vehicles in late 2009 -- but tried to save the sexy Armed Robotic Vehicle - Assault -Light, a version of the MULE made by Lockheed Martin that was armed with a M240 machine gun and Javelin missiles, big surprise. The Army killed that too when it didn’t have the mobility the service wanted. Still, infantry officials still want to find a way to carry heavy combat kit other than piling it on soldiers’ backs. One of the vehicles evaluated was Lockheed Martin’s Squad Mission Support System (SMSS), the same prototype the Army plans to send to Afghanistan soon for a limited war-zone evaluation, as we reported here. The 11-foot long SMSS can carry 1,200 pounds of supplies. The other robotic mule tested in the AEWE was Northrop Grumman’s Carry-all Mechanized Equipment Landrover, or CaMEL. It’s about half the length of the SMSS and can carry about 1,000 pounds. There are still a lot of unanswered questions -- like how the military will keep these supply-laden bots from falling into enemy hands. Hopefully, the Army can figure it out while the grunts still have to hump all over Afghanistan’s unforgiving terrain. -- Matt Cox