Army Close to Awarding New Contract for Robotic Mule to Carry Gear for Grunts

Matthew Cox
·3 min read

In its second attempt, the U.S. Army plans to award a contract this month for an unmanned ground vehicle designed to carry ammunition, water and other combat necessities in an effort to lighten the load grunts carry into battle.

The Army initially awarded a $162 million contract to General Dynamics Land Systems in November to produce the service's Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport (S-MET), only to have a competitor protest lead to the cancellation of the contract late last year.

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The service now plans to field the first of 624 S-METs in the second quarter of fiscal 2021, according to a recent Army news release. It hopes to complete fielding by 2024.

The Army tested prototypes from several vendors early last year by putting them into the hands of soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division and 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

During the evaluations, the robotic mule prototypes carried payloads of up to 1,000 pounds over 60 miles for three days at a time. They also generated one kilowatt of power when moving and three kilowatts when stationary, so soldiers could recharge batteries and other equipment.

"We were able to demonstrate that and got lots of soldier feedback," Lt. Col. Jonathan Bodenhamer said in the release. He is a product manager of Appliqué and Large Unmanned Ground Systems, which falls under the Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support.

Initially, the S-MET was intended to go to every squad, but program officials later decided that small units lacked the resources to maintain it or transport it when not on foot. It's likely that the S-MET will become a battalion asset, so squads, platoons and companies can benefit from the new vehicle but don't have to keep up the maintenance, Army officials have said.

The GDLS Multi-Utility Tactical Transport (MUTT) initially beat out competitors Polaris Industries Inc., Applied Research Associates Inc. (ARA) and Neya Systems LLC; HDT Global; and Howe and Howe Technologies Inc.

But Textron's protest of the contract on behalf of its subsidiary, Howe and Howe, prompted the Army to terminate the contract with GDLS in December, according to Defense News.

The service then allowed the original offerors to compete for a new contract, Army officials told Military.com.

The S-MET program is also developing modular mission payload capabilities (MMP) to expand its capabilities while using a common chassis.

The Army recently released requests for information to industry to develop an MMP to counter unmanned aerial systems and another to offer enhanced autonomy, according to the release.

"We are going to try to quickly get these things out to soldiers and let them see which ones do and don't meet their needs," Bodenhamer said in the release.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Related: Army Selects GDLS' Robotic Mule to Haul Soldier Gear into Battle