Monday, December 6, 2010

Lockheed to tailor SMSS vehicle for UK forces

By Stephen Harris

Lockheed Martin is looking to adapt a robotic vehicle that carries combat troops’ equipment for use by UK forces.

The autonomous Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) vehicle can carry up to 545kg – the equivalent of kit for seven soldiers – and is due to be trialled by the US Army in Afghanistan in the first or second quarter of 2011.

The US-owned defence and security firm is now hoping to win a UK government competition by developing the unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) to meet the British Army’s security and safety needs at its facility in Ampthill, Bedfordshire.

Dr Paul Townsend, research and technology lead for LMUK, said: ’Because SMSS is autonomous, it can be placed into a hide prior to an incursion, given some way points and be called forward without operator intervention to resupply the team.

‘Casualty evacuation is a futuristic concept at the moment but SMSS can travel faster than two men with a stretcher, so if it carried a casualty you wouldn’t have two guys taken out of battle.’

The six-wheeled open-top UGV is powered by a diesel engine and has a range of around 100 miles. Lockheed Martin is also planning to develop hybrid and full electric versions of the SMSS.

It navigates using GPS, a video camera and the optical remote sensing system LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) and, when autonomy isn’t required, a teleoperator can control up to four vehicles using a handheld unit.

Townsend said that adaptations were needed because the US and UK had different philosophies regarding autonomous vehicles.

‘Safety has to be built into such a platform at a very fundamental level and we are looking to understand – we’ve got some internal research and development – the UK needs,’ he said.

This article was amended on 11/11/2010. Lockheed Martin intiailly told The Engineer the SMSS was currently being trialled in Afghanistan. However, a spokesperson later said this was incorrect and the trials were not due to start until 2011.

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