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US Army adopts new breed of robotic battle vehicles

Lockheed-Martin-SMSS-Squad Mission Support System

As part of its ongoing quest to transform into a more modern fighting force, the US Army has purchased a new line of autonomous vehicles, which will soon aid soldiers in Afghanistan.

Created by Lockheed Martin, the Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) is “the largest autonomous vehicle to ever be deployed with infantry,” said Lockheed in announcement released today. The SMSS is 11 feet long (about one foot shorter than a Mini Cooper), and is capable of carrying up to half a ton of equipment, a feature that will help ease the often heavy loads of soldiers on the ground.

“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,” said Scott Green, vice president of ground vehicles in Lockheed Martin’s Missiles and Fire Control business, in a statement. “The Army has tested the system’s capabilities in three domestic user assessments, and SMSS has been deemed ready to deploy.”

On top of its load-carrying abilities, the SMSS also has a remote range of up to 125 miles, and can run in three different control modes: supervised autonomy, tele-operation or manually driven. Once deployed, the SMSS uses GPS to navigate on its own, as well as onboard sensors that can “lock on and follow any person by recognizing their digital 3-D profile.”

The SMSS will now undergo three more months of testing in Afghanistan, as part of the Army’s Military Utility Assessment, which determine how well the SMSS works in on an actual battlefield. Testing will reportedly begin later this year, after additional evaluations and training for the vehicle.

In addition, the SMSS has been selected to further test its combat abilities in the Army’s Expeditionary Warrior Experiment Spiral G, which takes place in November. There, the SMSS will be tested to evaluate “its ability to field a reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition mission equipment package.”

Of course, the SMSS is far from the first robot to be employed by America’s military. According to Wikipedia, military robots date back to WWII. Today, the US military uses a wide variety of robots, including a variety of anti-IED bots, and more than 7000 aerial drones.