Army-industry team finding solutions for lighter soldier gear
Soldiers are being asked to do the impossible, carrying out missions while humping over 100 pounds of gear, said Col. Kurt "Travis" Thompson.
They’re doing the impossible every day, but they can do much more if that burden is eased, he said.
Thompson, chief, Soldier Requirements Division, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Capability Manager – Soldier, spoke at a robotics conference in Springfield, Va.
A promising solution, he said, is the Squad Maneuver Equipment Transport, or SMET.
What it looks like and what it will be capable of doing is still pretty much an open question, he said.
But the important thing is that the Army, in partnership with industry, is in the process of developing those requirements and capabilities, and early prototypes are being tested by soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas.
While specific capabilities are yet to be put in writing, the Army has already provided the outline of what SMET might look like, Thompson said.
First and foremost, the SMET should be able to haul a squad of soldier gear for a typical 72-hour patrol, he said.
It needs to be able to keep up, he said. If it doesn’t keep pace and hold soldiers back, "that will be in their head," he said, meaning it will be one more thing to worry about instead of the mission and tracking the enemy.
The SMET must also be able to carry more energy than that required to power it, he said. In other words, SMET must have enough power to charge devices soldiers carry as well. If it can only power itself it will be like "a self-licking ice cream cone."
It goes without saying that on a 72-hour mission, soldiers are not continuously moving. During the security halts, the SMET could be in the charging mode.
Operational energy, therefore, will play an important part in development. That’s new battery technology, generation, alternative fuels and so forth.
Size matters as well, he said. If it’s too small, it won’t be able to carry heavy loads.
Too big and it won’t be able to go through a thick jungle. There’s got to be a happy medium.
As of now, the Army is roughly defining its size as something capable of fitting in the back of a helicopter or slung load below.
SMET might also be able to carry an array of sensors and weaponry for which to defend itself, with a Soldier in the loop, he added.
Finally, SMET should be autonomous or semi-autonomous, meaning that it must be smart enough to follow along with the soldiers with a minimum of control, he said.
Other SMET uses
Patrolling, while probably the most important SMET function, isn’t the only one, Thompson said.
At a forward operating base, or contingency operating base, the SMET could be used for perimeter security, thereby reducing risk to soldiers and manning requirements.
Inside the perimeter, it could serve to function supplies back and forth.
The Israelis are already using a SMET-type variant as a resupply vehicle, he said. This capability needs to be given to U.S. soldiers so they can operate it and figure out for themselves what the tactics, techniques and procedures for it will be and what it will be capable of doing.
Stu Hatfield, chief, Robotics Branch, Army G-8, pointed out that some early variants of SMET were used to tow soldiers on skis in Alaska, and follow soldiers through jungles in Hawaii.
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