WASHINGTON — Building off its extensive work on fuel cell technology, General Motors is developing a flexible and highly mobile, electric autonomous platform that can be converted to meet a wide variety of operational needs within the Army.
The company is unveiling, at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual convention in Washington, its Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure or SURUS for short.
SURUS is a palindrome — a nod to the vehicle’s ability to drive forward and backward with the ability for the lights and tail lights to reverse depending on which direction it’s going.
But also it’s the name of Hannibal’s war elephant used to defeat the Roman Empire. Hannibal built a great platform on Surus’ back to carry him and his generals so they could see the entire battlefield.
So GM envisions SURUS as a system serving the soldier not unlike Surus served Hannibal, Charlie Freese, executive director of GM’s Global Fuel Cell business, told Defense News in an interview prior to AUSA at the company’s Capitol Hill office.
The superstructure is a “skateboard” chassis with four-wheel steering capability that comes with multiple configurable tops that can be placed on it from an ambulance configuration to a cargo carrier to a weapons system or even a reconnaissance platform, tank buster or power generator.
“SURUS is intended to be field-configurable so we don’t have to make a one-purpose vehicle. It can be reused,” Freese said.
And while there are many ground robots out there that deliver specific capabilities such as the ability to haul a load of supplies to lighten the soldier’s load, the fuel cell technology at the heart of the SURUS platform allows it to silently creep through the battlefield and travel 10 times further than a typical robot.
The system can serve as a power generator with up to 100 kw of power on board, which is more than enough power to support a directed energy weapon or just serve as a power generator, Freese said.
Up to eight of the vehicles can fit inside a C-17 for transport, he added.
Over the last year, GM has been testing another fuel cell platform with the U.S. Army, its ZH2 hydrogen cell-powered demonstrator. According to testimonials it is getting rave reviews from soldiers trying it out in the field at both Fort Carson, Colorado, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
One soldier providing feedback in a video full of testimonials said the only thing that was audible while operating the vehicle was the sound of rocks crunching underneath the tires.
Soldiers also reported that while other vehicles in the Army’s inventory can be heard miles away, the ZH2 can go undetected even as close as 50 meters.
In a trailer teasing the unveiling of SURUS, a soldier marches through the darkness on a reconnaissance mission as SURUS pulls up quietly alongside him and they continue to move along together undetected.
Freese said it will likely take more time to get SURUS out with soldiers in the field for evaluation than it took with the ZH2 because of the added challenge of refining autonomous capabilities and the wide variety of different configurations that could be evaluated.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.