A squad level mission support ground transport robot has been operated in Afghanistan and has been tested for several years. Squad Mission Support System is an unmanned all terrain wheeled vehicle developed by Lockheed Martin.
The SMSS Block 1 went to Afghanistan for a military utility assessment in late 2011. The Block 1 version has a lighter frame, infrared driving lights, a smaller and more efficient sensor package, and insulated exhaust and hydraulics that make them quieter in the field. It is heavier at 3,800 pounds unloaded, but can carry a larger 1,200 pound payload, and has a 125 mile operating range. The SMSS can operate autonomously, be programmed to “follow the leader,” be tele-operated, or controlled manually by getting on the vehicle and using a joystick to steer. The vehicle has a litter carrying kit for casualty evacuation.
Four vehicles were deployed to Afghanistan. They were used to resupply small combat outposts and strongpoints, and construction projects on its larger forward operating base. One unit used the SMSS to carry 10,000 pounds of supplies over the course of two days to a small combat outpost two kilometers away, regularly carrying 2,000-pound loads. One time, soldiers loaded one vehicle up with 100 sandbags, which was estimated to weigh 4,000 pounds (exceeding Lockheed’s recommended carrying weight of 1,200 pounds), and succussfully drove it up a 30-degree slope. While initially planned as a squad-level asset, it is being used more at the platoon level. From fielding experiences, Lockheed is planning improvements to the system. They are considering adding another alternator to increase its power output, since one group of soldiers in Afghanistan had been trying to use it as a mobile operations center by loading it up with generators and batteries while out on missions. Lockheed is also considering adding a manipulator arm so it can load unload cargo itself.
On 7 August 2014, the SMSS was used in an exercise at Fort Benning to combine the abilities of both an unmanned ground vehicle and unmanned aerial vehicle. It involved the SMSS and an unmanned K-MAX helicopter, both Lockheed Martin systems, operating in a simulated area deemed too risky for human presence. The K-MAX autonomously transported the SMSS by sling load into the area and set it down over an intended point, releasing it upon command from a remote operator. The K-MAX returned to base, then the SMSS used autonomous operation and limited tele-operation from a remote site to move around the area. Once deployed, the vehicle used a mast-mounted Gyrocam electro-optical sensor and satellite communications (SATCOM) terminal with a datalink for area surveillance. The exercise was intended to demonstrate that large UAVs and UGVs could operate alongside each other by themselves and beyond line-of-sight to perform missions to keep personnel out of harm’s way
The Kaman K-MAX (Company designation K-1200) is an American helicopter with intermeshing rotors (synchropter) built by Kaman Aircraft. It is optimized for external cargo load operations, and is able to lift a payload of over 6,000 pounds (2,722 kg), which is more than the helicopter’s empty weight. A remote controlled unmanned aerial vehicle version is being developed and is being evaluated in extended practical service in the war in Afghanistan.
Combat Lasers could be added to the SMSS
Currently the SMSS is unarmed, but there are plans to arm it with either RPG or small missile systems. The current SMSS could be loaded up with 40 to 100 kilowatts of combat lasers but it would make more sense to add 10 to 20 KW of combat lasers and conventional RPG and missiles.
Boeing’s new Compact Laser Weapon System (LWS) breaks down into four parts, each transportable by one or two Marines. Boeing says these components include:
* a battery
* a water-cooled chiller
* a commercially available fiber laser
* an upgraded beam director, weighing 40% less than a previous model.
In total, the system weighs about 650 pounds and would probably be operated by a squad of eight to 12 soldiers or Marines.
Able to be assembled in just 15 minutes, LWS is capable of generating an energy beam of up to 10 kilowatts that can, depending on the power level, be used to acquire, track, and identify a target — or even destroy it — at ranges of at least 22 miles. The weapon is designed specifically to track and attack moving aerial targets such as incoming artillery rounds, and low-flying aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Setting Up a compact laser weapon ststem at marine squad tactics exercise in Yuma, Arizona. Image Source: USMC.
Within five years the energy density of the batteries could be doubled and the other components should also be further reduced in size to get the system down to 200-300 pounds.
With 10 kilowatt lasers in that size range, 200-300 kilowatt lasers could fit into the truck sized systems.
Squad level drones and robot project
DARPA’s new Squad X Core Technologies (SXCT) program aims to address the challenge and ensure that dismounted infantry squads maintain uncontested tactical superiority over potential adversaries without being overburdened by cumbersome hardware. The goal is to speed the development of new, lightweight, integrated systems that provide infantry squads unprecedented awareness, adaptability and flexibility in complex environments, and enable dismounted Soldiers and Marines to more intuitively understand and control their complex mission environments.
SXCT plans to explore four key technical areas:
1. Precision Engagement: Precisely engage threats out to 0.6 mile (1,000 meters), while maintaining compatibility with infantry weapon systems and without imposing weight or operational burdens that would negatively affect mission effectiveness
2. Non-Kinetic Engagement: Disrupt enemy command and control, communications and use of unmanned assets at a squad-relevant operational pace (walking with occasional bursts of speed)
3. Squad Sensing: Detect potential threats out to 0.6 mile (1,000 meters) at a squad-relevant operational pace
4. Squad Autonomy: Increase squad members’ real-time knowledge of their own and teammates’ locations to less than 20 feet (6 meters) in GPS-denied environments through collaboration with embedded unmanned air and ground systems
DARPA’s new Squad X Core Technologies (SXCT) program aims to help dismounted infantry squads continue to achieve and maintain overwhelming tactical superiority over potential adversaries. SXCT seeks to adapt, extend and develop capabilities that would enhance small units’ real-time situational awareness and ability to precisely verify and engage hostile targets at multiple ranges. The goal is to speed the development of new, lightweight, integrated systems that provide infantry squads unprecedented awareness, adaptability and flexibility in complex environments, and enable dismounted Soldiers and Marines to more intuitively understand and control their complex mission environments
SOURCES – Wikipedia, Fool.com, youtube, DARPA
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