Lockheed’s Robo-Jeep Set to Return From Afghanistan Deployment

PARIS — Lockheed Martin has received positive reviews from U.S. Army soldiers deployed with the company’s unmanned ground transport vehicle that will start returning from Afghanistan this month.

The U.S. Army’s Rapid Equipping Force deployed Lockheed Martin’s Squad Mission Support in January. Four prototypes deployed to Afghanistan as part of Project Workhorse Unmanned Ground Vehicle.

The six wheeled flat bed that is not much bigger than a standard all terrain vehicle could take a serious strain off soldiers’ backs. The autonomous vehicle is designed to haul a squad’s worth of gear. Up to 1,200 pounds to be exact.

Engineers designed the vehicle to recognize a squad leader’s shape and to follow that person no matter the obstacle a squad might navigate around. Soldiers can also drive the UGV via voice controls or with a remote control.

Lockheed Martin has built a transport, scout, mobile power and mobile communications variants of the vehicle. Each one is built for two to laod into a CH-47 and CH-53 helicopters. A UH-60 Blackhawk could also sling load a SMSS under its belly.

The block 1 prototype has a range of 125 miles and weighs 3,800 pounds. Early reviews said the vehicle was too loud. The block 1 improvements included an insulated exhaust and hydraulics to quiet the ride.

— Mike Hoffman

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • D.W.

    What in the world is that horrible cammo? Or is it just ACU and the print came out with too much cyan?

    • Ben

      Probably just an over-saturated photo.

  • Lightbringer

    If you’re patrolling through an area strewn with IEDs, why would you want this thing FOLLOWING you? Wouldn’t it do more good out in front, setting off traps so you don’t have to?

    • Ryan

      Good idea. Maybe the remote driving feature could be used for that.

    • TMB

      It would be an expensive mine detector. Especially if 90% of your gear is strapped to it.

      • eirikr1

        I agree with the above; but i wonder if i had the choice between life and limb or “all our stuff” in a combat zone, would I still make the same decision??

  • Rohan

    I had operated it a month ago….. itzzz just cool to handle..itz real military name has been kept as MULE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Uncle Fungal

    Is it going to be treated for PTSD?

    • RetPara

      After the block 4 improvement with the self awareness cyber system, they will redeploy through US Army Medcom assets to TACOM for fit. While in the US Medcom chain, they will receive PTSD treatment.

      It will not be until block 9 improvements that they will qualify for veterans benefits though.

  • Rahat

    Why can’t they just get a mule? The Afghans use it,. It’ll be a hell of a lot cheaper then this techno MULE!

    • tee

      I agree, the Army for years had animals, horses, mules, etc just for this purpose. They ( Mules & Horses ) can go places where a man can barely go, and one of these could never go. And I’m sure a mule doesn’t cost much more than a $1000.00, and general maintenance would be 1-100th of the cost of LM’s Mule. I wonder how many mules can you get for the price of just ONE of these?

      • blight_

        Trying to imagine the private contracts that would be let for mules and mule feed. Millions of dollars for water for ten mules….

    • Technoweapon

      Because American’s, that’s why. Using an animal in combat would make us a laughing stock. Please leave 100 years ago alone and come back to 2012. We miss you. Even if a mule worked out well you do understand the fact that we’d need thousands.

      All the tech and machinery and training in the world. Optics that can see the dust on your shoulders at 1000 yards. Lasers. Nukes. IR, AI…. Mules… No, sir, it doesn’t fit!

      Dogs are the exception, of course.

      • skygod225

        During the initial invasion of Douchebagistan, SF did ride horses and did use mules…and that was 2001…hell we even used mules and horses through out WW 2…

      • Wul145

        Why would it make ‘you’ a laughing stock, a lot of Armies still use Horses and Mules for Moutain Warfare.
        I know that the German, Austrian, and Swiss Gebirgsjäger use them for Alpine Operations since they can live off the Land, are low Maintenace, and if you are cut off or are out of supplies you can still eat them.

        • tiger

          Where are you getting the food & water? Extra men to care for them? The Vets for medical care? Pens to hold them? The PETA folks?

          Mountain bikes are a better, cheaper option.

          • Rockchuck

            Mountain bikes? Really? Ever tried to ride a mountain bike up just a regular hiking trail in the mountains? Pretty much impossible. Ever seen a battlefield with a nice little mountain bike trail for every member of the platoon? Oh, you meant downhill? I’m right handed, so lets say I’ve aiming my M4 downhill with my right hand while while steering with my left at 20MPH and gaining speed. The rear brake lever is on the right! Whoever came up with that drivel at Motague is an idiot. The only way a soldier carrying 75 pounds on a bicycle could ride 75 miles in a day is if it were on flat pavement.

          • tiger

            The Japanese took Malaya in 2 months on bikes. The VC moved supplies all over with bikes. Would you rather walk? You can cover more ground per day. They make no exhuast. Need no fuel. Are quiet & can fold up. Much cheaper than a robot.

          • TMB

            The Germans captured a couple islands in the Gulf of Riga from the Russians in 1917 with an amphibious assault. Of the units that attacked, one of them was a brigade on bicycles. They raced across the island and captured a key bridge cutting off Russian reinforcements and escape.

    • Technoweapon

      Oh. And let’s not forget speed. How much speed/range does a mule have? Now how much does it have loaded with two packs? One pack?

      This machine can carry a squads worth. No one has to operate it. No one has to feed it or water it. It doesn’t stop if it feels like it. Shrapnel is going to have less effect on this machine. It can probably be shot up.

      You’re damn right I’ll laugh at your mule as I strap my gear onto this ride.

      Blows my mind there’s even the thought of comparison.

  • Lance

    needs new paint job but cool little MULE system.

  • Tribulationtime

    OK that is the engineers say. What the soldiers says (off the record)?. Other one that thing which weight 3 times more than carrie load, can cross little ditches, or streams like the ones who Brits cross with ladders?. If look the room under the belly I not sure thats take out of the tarmac runaway.

    • kevin

      try speaking english next time

  • shotbag

    All they had to do was bring back the old mule, gotta be cheaper than that boondogle

  • shotbag

    TOO exspensive & to damn heavy, the old RVN era mule could be manhandled by 2 good men! oh yea we don’t have 2 good men anymore, it would be a female & some dude of questionable character.

  • Technoweapon

    I’m sure anyone out there having to hump that gear up and down mountains all day and night are going to give two big thumbs up to whatever works that’ll haul the gear for them.

    I know there’s more than a few readers here thinking “Damn, wish I had something like this.”

    Making it quiet is good. But I’m willing to bet they wanted it quieter so they can communicate easier. We’re not exactly trying to hide much out there.

  • Jeff

    So the robo-puppydog follows along and carries the squad’s gear. Sonds like someone just found a way to double the amount of gear a squad can pack into the field.

    • Technoweapon

      Ah, man… Hadn’t thought of it like that. Unless they put a hard cap on what a squad carries into battle then you’re probably correct. Which sucks… But at the same time it does mean we’d have double the gear available. That’s not too bad.

      Still. You just killed my wet dream of traveling light.

      • TMB

        No such thing as “traveling light” unless you’re truly willing to leaves certain things behind. The jungle fighters of WWII or Vietnam were willing to leave normal support behind and live off the land or cache supplies to dip into.

        The weight of a soldier’s individual load has hardly changed since soldiers started wearing metal armor (70 pounds or so). Every time we think of a way to make gear lighter, we either give them more toys to use, or the soldier voluntarily carries more. If this system becomes common use, then you’ll see it packed to the gills and maxing it’s weight allowance every time.

        • tiger

          Our enimies do travel light. We have reverted to being battlefield turtles. You can’t run with 60lbs of crap vs, guys in t shits & jeans. We have gone full circle to the knights in armor vs commoner with a match lock.

          • TMB

            Our enemies are great at traveling light. Most of our enemies didn’t have tech and money on their side, but they’ve been determined and fighting in their own backyards.

          • blight_

            Our enemies live off the land by forcing the locals to feed them or they kill a family member. They also blend in pretty easily so they can live in plain sight. If we lived in a village, we would be pretty obvious. We also can’t “force” them to feed and house us…?

  • richard obrien

    Better Idea: Mules AND an updated lightweight titanium PACK HOWITZER, with an assortment of shells, including GPS guided. The Italians have the right idea.

  • Keeper_of _Horses

    The idea is good…and bad!! Good: it lightens the grunts load…havign been a grunt…this is a good thing. Bad: the BAD guys can see you comming!! IF you are gonna fight light…then FIGHT LIGHT!! I was trained to dump my load, we used ponchos and liners for sleeping bags. stayed in the same cloths for days and “went commando in the field ( that was the reason for the flap in the BDU’s hte LESS you carry the better…exception…ammo….can never have enought of that!!

  • tee

    Lets see for $300,000.00( in 2008 dollars, how much today ????) I think we should be using real Mules & horses like we did in 2001 when we first went into Afghanistan. You can buy a whole lot of Mules & horses and feed them for years for the price of just one of LM’s Mules. Plus the real ones can climb mountains and go places where a human can barely walk. I’m all for Tech, but having it just to have it when there is a cheaper and much more practical solution is just foolish and pi$$ing way our tax dollars.
    http://defense-update.com/products/m/mule-load-ca

  • XYZ
  • xpoqx

    Y’all are going about this all the wrong way…

    This mule is not starteled by an ambush, does not die if it takes a bullet. It carries 1200lbs, which probablly the equivlent of 3 live animals. It requires no food, no water, and no special housing on base.

    In an urban setting this thing can lug extra gear for the squad, food, water, comms equipment, medical supplies, mortars, rocket lauchers, plastic explosives, ammo grenades, amd specialized weapons like long rifles and xm-25s and crew served weapons. Shit meow the whole squad can now look like a normal infantry squad and hide the fact that people the enemy put bountys out on like snipers.
    Plus you could use it to evac wounded with out losing to many shooters outta the squad.
    You could also ride on top of it to get in and outta places faster than the dismounted squad could.

    Shit even outside an urban setting it still does all these things, and it off roads, and can cross streams. So it may not have the high altitude ability like the real mule, But I’m pretty sure the price and tech makes this a much better iption than the live animal.

    • ltfunk

      I guess it runs on air and farts sunshine.

      This is a classic waste of money. This is just an atv without a driver that is all. And not having a driver means it’s less manouverable, less tactical and generally worse.

    • TMB

      You’re the second person here to say it doesn’t need food or water. Of course it does. It needs water, fuel, and oil just like any other machine. It will also require a mechanic, benchstock of parts, and hopefully it has the range currently advertised or it will have to sacrifice storage room for a fuel can. All of those things can be taken care of in the battalion rear, but they’re still part of the discussion.

      • blight_

        More likely it goes to a depot staffed with contractors. IIRC, Packbots and such don’t get maintained at battalion level?

    • Raraavis

      Real mules eat grass and drink water from streams and puddles. Unless this thing is smart enough to steal it’s own gas from gas stations, cars and farm tractors real mules still win.

  • xpoqx

    Take back that last part, what I meant to say for the tech involved, and the abilitys it gives to the squad it out weighs the high price. Give them to the Ranger Battalions so they can be even more lethal.

    • tiger

      It weighs as much a avg. car with less range than a Lincoln Town car. When this toy breaks, who is going to fix it? A Lock Mart Tech rep? Where does it refuel? Engine noise? IR signiture?

  • Meph

    Won’t the enemy be able to just hack that thing and drive of with the squad’s gear, water, and ammo?

  • Pharsalus

    Pfff, this thing is nice to have arond for specific mission types; long-range patrols over flattish land.

    – MULE won’t climb a mountain range that a mule will.
    – In real, heavy combat (think WW2 eastern front) it’s too expensive and vulnerable
    – Good, trained horses or mules don’t frighten when shot at, IMHO
    – If it blows up, the squad loses its gear. Imagine if you have mission-essential gear riding on that thing! Or: the squad carries what it needs and the MULE carries, well, unnecessary goodies.
    – I was taught that vehicles naturally draw fire which cannot be good for an unarmoured tractor.
    – I’d actually prefer to have the MULE’s electronics built into an old M113 or BTR with a mortar and/or autocannon. It still carries, you can use it for a bunker (Dutch patrol containers!) and it can fight back. Oh, and it SEEMS cheaper.

    • eirikr1

      re: – If it blows up, the squad loses its gear. Imagine if you have mission-essential gear riding on that thing!

      And if the mule is shot or “blows up” it’s the same result, right? is there a difference on this one point??

    • blight_

      Would be interesting if they automated APCs and IFVs, returning certain vehicles back to an infantry-centric focus. However, it would mean some infantryman would turn into a vehicle driver, or that infantrymen would be protecting some guy using a remote controller to operate the APC/IFV.

    • tiger

      This is the PC military of 2012. The one with Gay pride months & Animal rights protestors who would not aprove. Hell, they don’t let the Navy test Sonar because of whales. How do you think this goes over?

  • ltfunk

    The wonder weapons of a defeated army.

  • Military Dude

    Next thing they want to add V shape hull, 20mm, smoke grenades, Thermo sights, Ooops another stryker, bradley M1….Does Pentagon Wars sound familiar?

  • That’s not going anywhere a regular vehicle can’t already go. And vehicles like Supacat’s HMT range will also fit inside a CH-47. So why not just take a regular armed and protected truck, and have the added benefit of bringing a heavy weapons platform on your patrol?

  • navyjoc1655

    Another money pit which will not survive the current DoD budget cuts. These will fall victim to mines and RPG’s.

  • puresaltA1A

    If a large part of your gear is stuck to it, would you not think that would be a RPG magnet??? Taking out a majority of your gear and the soldiers running to it when the poop hits the fan?? I

  • blight_
  • Medic10Zulu

    a mule is a mule

  • Raraavis

    Why not give one to each solider he can ride in it with his gear and dismount fully rested or fight from it when needed.

  • Robert

    It needs further exploration for this equipment.

    It needs to be armed like a UAV and needs to be able to cleanse our enemies as it moves forward with the payload.

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