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By Julian Nettlefold

During SOFEX, Morri Leland of Lockheed Martin M&FC gave BATTLESPACE an update on the trials of the Lockheed Martin Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) unmanned ground vehicle in Afghanistan and the U.K.

As a result of winning the Project Workhorse Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) competition sponsored by the U.S. Army, four Lockheed Martin Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) vehicles will be sent to Afghanistan as part of a three-month Military Utility Assessment (MUA). The 11-foot-long (3.3 m) SMSS, which can carry more than half-a-ton of a squad’s equipment on rugged terrain, will be the largest autonomous ground vehicle ever to be deployed with infantry. This assessment has been extended by one month to April 30th

The first-of-its-kind military assessment saw four SMSS vehicles and a field service representative support light infantry in theater to evaluate how autonomous vehicles can support or ease the equipment burden for deployed troops – a burden that can often exceed 100 pounds (45 kg) for individual soldiers. A fifth vehicle and an engineering team will also remain in the U.S. to provide analysis and additional support. The SMSS vehicles were deployed from the FoB into the filed on 40 different mission scenarios with positive feedback.

The missions ranged from Pre-planned missions with a map study/GPS point loaded into the interface of the SMSS; an override mission, where the operator can override the mission and send the SMSS on a new task; a ‘Return to FoB’ mission, where the SMSS is directed to return to base for anew task; a ‘come back to me,’ message is fed into the SMSS software to return; Telling the vehicle to ‘follow me’ in a specific load-carrying task.

All missions involved the SMSS being fully autonomous and avoiding obstacles using its advanced LIDAR system.

The vehicle being deployed is the SMSS Block I variant, which has a range of 125 miles (201 km) and has three control options: supervised autonomy, tele-operation or manual operation. Compared to the Block 0 variant, the Block I variant also has a lighter frame, infrared driving lights, a smaller, more efficient sensor package and insulated exhaust and hydraulics that make them quieter in the field. The SMSS sensor suite also allows the vehicle to lock on and follow any person based on their digital 3D profile or to navigate terrain on its own by following a trail of GPS waypoints.

“SMSS is the result of more than a decade of robotic technology development, and we welcome the opportunity to demonstrate this capability in theater, where it can have an immediate impact at the squad level. The Army has tested the system’s capabilities in three domestic user assessments, and SMSS has been deemed ready to deploy,” said Morri Leland.

Lockheed Martin says that these Afghan trials prove that SMSS has demonstrated its ability to reduce soldier loads and provide portable power.

While the current SMSS is unarmed, Lockheed Martin says the long-term vision is to arm the vehicle and improve its reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition capabilities. The Army’s Expeditionary Warrior Experiment (AEWE) Spiral G which took place in November 2011 will evaluate its ability to field a reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition mission equipment package. Another enhancement is to make the SMSS reactive to voice activated commands. Morri Leland confirmed that the SMSS operating system can be used on any other vehicle type given its open architecture.

The U.K. MoD has also tested the SMSS along with other UGVs in a two week trial on Salisbury Plain.

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