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US Army trials robot 'leccy-n-bandwidth war-mules

Big Red One needs batteries and bits, not beans and bullets

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

The US army remains determined to kit out all its ground troops with portable, wearable networking gear which will provide them with comms as well as an accurate idea of where everyone is. Unfortunately, when you have to generate your own wireless coverage as you go from the same kit, this means a lot of power - and this in turn means a crippling load of batteries.

smss_us_army_robot_car

Throbbing with power: plug your kit in and focus on the fight.

What's the solution? Well, it couldn't be more obvious. Naturally what's needed here is a small intelligent robot car, able to follow a dismounted team of soldiers about and carry a network node for them all to connect to - like a sort of trundling mobile mast - and, naturally, to carry and charge up extra batteries for the troops as well.

Balderdash, you say? Fantasy? Think again.

US aerospace behemoth Lockheed is not only working on such a batteries'n'broadband mule vehicle, it has completed it. The machine is dubbed Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) and it is to undergo trials with the US 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, next month.

The Big Red One (as the 1st are known) will also be equipped with "Nett Warrior" wearable comms and network gear for the exercises - hence the addition of the SMSS in battery'n'backhaul mode. A single platoon of 30-40 troops with Nett Warrior can expect to run flat no less than 140 batteries weighing 155 pounds every day. Forget bullets and beans, it's batteries the modern soldier needs.

That's where Lockheed thinks the SMSS will shine. It will be equipped with not only a Mobile Network Integration Kit "to improve communications from the network to the platoon", but also with chargers capable of topping up fully 146 batteries in just 10 hours, easily keeping pace with a couple of platoons' usage. It can also carry other stuff as required.

"Soldiers deserve the best possible situational awareness, communications, optics, sensors and protection, and the SMSS will help power it all and relieve their burden," says Lockheed bigcheese Jim Gribschaw. "SMSS represents much more than a portable charging station; it can carry more than half a ton of the Warfighters' supplies and can autonomously follow the squad, allowing the soldier to put down the remote control and focus on the fight."

Strange days, for anyone with old-school infantry experience. ®

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