As a result of winning the Project Workhorse Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) competition sponsored by the U.S. Army, four Lockheed Martin Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) vehicles will be sent to Afghanistan as part of a three-month Military Utility Assessment (MUA). The 11-foot-long (3.3 m) SMSS, which can carry more than half-a-ton of a squad's equipment on rugged terrain, will be the largest autonomous ground vehicle ever to be deployed with infantry.

The first-of-its-kind military assessment will see four SMSS vehicles and a field service representative support light infantry in theater to evaluate how autonomous vehicles can support or ease the equipment burden for deployed troops - a burden that can often exceed 100 pounds (45 kg) for individual soldiers. A fifth vehicle and an engineering team will also remain in the U.S. to provide analysis and additional support.

The vehicle being deployed is the SMSS Block I variant, which has a range of 125 miles (201 km) and has three control options: supervised autonomy, tele-operation or manual operation. Compared to the Block 0 variant, the Block I variant also has a lighter frame, infrared driving lights, a smaller, more efficient sensor package and insulated exhaust and hydraulics that make them quieter in the field. The SMSS sensor suite also allows the vehicle to lock on and follow any person based on their digital 3D profile or to navigate terrain on its own by following a trail of GPS waypoints.

"SMSS is the result of more than a decade of robotic technology development, and we welcome the opportunity to demonstrate this capability in theater, where it can have an immediate impact at the squad level. The Army has tested the system's capabilities in three domestic user assessments, and SMSS has been deemed ready to deploy," said Scott Greene, vice president of ground vehicles in Lockheed Martin's Missiles and Fire Control business. "An in-theater assessment is the next logical step in the process of informing the requirements for the Army's future squad-sized UGV developments."

Lockheed Martin says SMSS has already demonstrated its ability to reduce soldier loads and provide portable power and that the Afghanistan SMSS assessment is due to begin later this year following a period of evaluations and training.

While the current SMSS is unarmed, Lockheed Martin says the long-term vision is to arm the vehicle and improve its reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition capabilities. To this end, the Army's Expeditionary Warrior Experiment (AEWE) Spiral G that is due to take place in November this year will evaluate its ability to field a reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition mission equipment package.

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