Marines test robotic mule that could carry weapons, sensors

The Marines recently tested an unmanned ground vehicle that could carry equipment by providing portable electrical charging and add firepower to small units.

Generally, these types of platforms carry equipment for troops like pack animals used to.

The current Army program for the vehicle is called transportation of team multipurpose equipment, or SMET. The Marine program is called multi-use tactical transport, or MUTT.

Marines from the 3rd Littoral Logistics Battalion at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, conducted a two-week foreign comparative test in December 2023, along with U.S. Army researchers, of the Hanwha Arion-SMET vehicle, according to a Mariners’ press release.

David Keeler, Marine Corps Systems Command project leader, said: “UGVs can complement tactical vehicle functions as they are highly transportable, can be moved quickly to points of need and do not require licensed operators.”

The Marines ran the vehicle on terrains such as a sand course with turf, soft sand, clay with sand and rough roads, according to a press release from Hanwha, a South Korean aerospace and green technology company. As part of the tests, Marines used the vehicle for heavy equipment transport, remotely piloted driving, waypoint navigation, physical tether tracking, soldier tracking and exploratory maneuvers.

The Arion-SMET is a six-wheel electric vehicle that can carry 1,200 pounds, travel up to 62 miles and reach a top speed of 27 miles per hour on paved roads and 14 miles per hour on unpaved roads, according to the company.

General Dynamics builds the team’s multipurpose equipment carrier for the Army and has been on track to deliver 675 platforms by October 2024 since winning the $249 million initial production contract in 2020. Spastic defense mentionted.

The Marine Corps has yet to field an unmanned ground vehicle, said Morgan Blackstock, a spokeswoman for the Marine Corps Systems Command.

“The requirements are being considered for the (Unmanned Ground Vehicle) applications, but have not been determined at this time,” Blackstock wrote in an emailed response. “The data generated by the (Overseas Comparison Test) will assist the Marine Corps in determining requirements for (Unmanned Ground Vehicles).

The assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology told the agency in October 2023 that augmentation II to carry the team’s multipurpose equipment could include the addition of weapons or sensor packages.

The team’s multi-purpose equipment transport can cover 60 miles in a 72-hour period while carrying up to 1,000 pounds, according to Army specifications.

Hanwha’s recent benchmark tests are part of a second wave of unmanned ground vehicle development for both services. While the initial effort sought to transport unit equipment and provide mobile charging, next steps could include weapons platforms.

The need for mobile transport and weapons platforms has been highlighted by recent conflicts.

Steve Duong, an international affairs specialist at the Systems Command, said: “If you look at the war between Russia and Ukraine, you’ll see that each side is looking for the other’s logistical support. This is questionable logistics.”

“What you don’t want is a big platform with a big signature carrying something like rubber or ammunition back and forth because it can be easily identified by enemy sensors.”

Soldiers from the Airborne Test and Special Operations Directorate conducted simulated air drop impact tests on the team’s current multipurpose equipment transports in December 2023, according to Army press release.

In 2016Marines tested a tracked version of the multipurpose tactical transport that carried 600 pounds on land and 300 pounds while amphibious for about 15 miles before running out of power, Marine Corps Times mentioned earlier.

Todd South has written on crime, courts, government, and the military for multiple publications since 2004, and was named a 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist for a co-authored work on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine from the Iraq War.

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