Army accelerates plan to issue robotic mules to infantry units

STUTTGART, Germany — Loads are about to get lighter for the Army’s infantrymen as plans are accelerated to deliver robotic pack mules to ground troops.

The Army has awarded a $162.4 million contract to General Dynamics Land Systems to produce 624 Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport systems. The wheeled, battery-operated machines are expected to begin arriving at units in 2021, the Army said in a statement.

The unmanned robotic transport system can cover more than 60 miles in 72 hours, and carry 1,000 pounds, the Army said. That would reduce each soldier’s weight burden by more than 100 pounds when operating in support of a rifle squad, it said.

The military has been looking to robotics in recent years to help lighten the load for infantrymen, who are weighted down with heavy body armor, ammunition and rucksacks loaded with water and other supplies.

The Marines experimented with a robot known as “Big Dog,” which was supposed to help with carrying extra ammunition. But Big Dog was abandoned in 2015 because it was too noisy to bring to a fight.

The Army said a key to the success of its robotic pack mule was soldier involvement in the development process.

“Direct Soldier feedback drove the requirements for the S-MET, and certainly helped determine what systems would work best for IBCTs (Infantry Brigade Combat Teams) to fill a capability gap,” said Don Sando, director for the Maneuver Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate, based at Fort Benning, Ga.


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