Robotic vehicle for infantry displayed at Pentagon

This year, two Army IBCTs and a not-yet-disclosed Marine unit will be testing variants of a load-bearing robot vehicle. Todd South tells us more.

By November, two Army infantry brigade combat teams and a not-yet-disclosed Marine unit will be testing four variants of a load-bearing robot vehicle for the next year.

During a technology demonstration focusing on Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’ push to make close combat forces more lethal, officials with the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport showcased the four submissions.

The options range from vehicles with four, six and eight wheels and a tracked version. Each has its own characteristics but must meet basic needs.

Army Capt. Erika Hanson, assistant product manager for SMET at Program Executive Office Combat Support and Combat Service Support, said the vehicle is designed to take the burden off the soldier.

The Army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division and 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division have been chosen to test the vehicle. Officials disclosed this week that a Marine unit at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will also test the vehicles for the same period.

Each unit will get each of the variants to test, Hanson said.

The assessment began with the evaluation of 10 systems at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The choices were then narrowed down to four — the MRZR X, based off the Polaris MRZR currently in service with the Marines; the General Dynamics 4x4 Multi-Utility Tactical Transport or MUTT; the Howe and Howe RS2-H1; and the HDT Global Hunter WOLF, or Wheeled Offload Logistics Follower.

The MRZR X is a four-wheeled all-terrain vehicle; and the MUTT is an eight-wheeled vehicle with a flatbed type of configuration.

The Hunter WOLF is a six-wheeled vehicle that uses a morphed tire/track for traction; and the RS2-H1 is the only tracked vehicle submission.

The testing moving forward will see if the vehicles can carry enough gear for a nine-soldier squad — nine rucks, two fuel jugs, two water jugs and three days’ worth of Meals Ready to Eat — as well as carry batteries and charge them while on mission.

The three basic requirements for the vehicles are to carry 1,000 pounds, travel 60 miles in 72 hours, and charge up at a 3-kilowatt rate while stationary and a 1-kilowatt rate while moving, said Greg Colvin, technology demonstration engineer for the SMET program.

All four can be operated with a one-handed remote control, Colvin said. Two can be driven through teleoperations or using non-line of sight maneuvering with onboard sensors and cameras.

The MRZR X is an “optionally manned” vehicle that can be driven either by a driver in the seat or through remote control.

The vehicles will first stop at the Army Testing Command in June before being sent to the units in November for a year’s worth of testing, Colvin said.

Researchers will gather data and conduct interviews, and provide quarterly reports on the use of the vehicles in the formations.

Following the year of tests, there will be an evaluation and, potentially, a down-select to one vehicle or a decision on whether one type of vehicle can fit all the squad load needs or if more than one type might be required.