WASHINGTON — Four companies have advanced to build ground robots capable of equipment transport ahead of a program of record where one of the four will be selected to produce the unmanned vehicle for the Army.
A team of Applied Research Associates and Polaris Defense, as well as General Dynamics Land Systems, HDT Expeditionary Systems and Howe & Howe were selected to build 20 platforms each that will be issued to two infantry brigade combat teams (IBCTs) to be tested and analyzed for their utility in the field, according to Lt. Col. Cory Berg, the product manager of unmanned ground vehicles within Program Executive Office Combat Support and Combat Service Support.
The Army selected the group from an array of companies which were chosen to participate in a demonstration event from Sept. 11 through Oct. 14 at Fort Benning, Georgia. The demonstration was meant to educate the Army on robotic logistics capabilities and for soldiers to provide operational feedback.
The participating companies, aside from the four selected to move onto the next phase, were American Robot Company, Lockheed Martin, AM General, Roboteam NA, Inc., and QinetiQ North America.
While the proposals from the four companies were selected, the Army has yet to award contracts because it depends on new start authority requested in the fiscal year 2018 budget. Since the Army is operating under a continuing resolution which means it is funded under FY17 budget levels, it is unable to proceed until passage of an FY18 congressional spending bill.
The Army continues to execute the overall SMET effort as part of an initial phase to accelerate the process of developing capabilities with warfighter input, “aimed at enhancing soldiers’ lethality and reducing their logistical burden,” Berg said in a statement sent to Defense News.
Once the Army is able to begin the second phase of the program, it will issue SMETs to two IBCTs in the fourth quarter of FY18 for a year-long soldier evaluation to inform future program decisions, Berg said.
The Army plans to pursue a materiel development decision in the second quarter of FY19, which will move SMET into an official program of record with a production contract award to one of the four contractors in the third quarter of FY19, according to Berg.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.