The US Army’s Nett Warrior program involves equipping dismounted soldiers with wearable battle tracking electronics in order to increase situational awareness and reaction time and reduce the risk of “friendly fire”-related accidents. One Nett Warrior-equipped Infantry Brigade Combat Team requires a collection of batteries weighing 155 pounds (70 kg) for one 24-hour mission, and could consume the power of 140 batteries per day. That’s a lot of gear, and is the reason why aerospace firm Lockheed Martin first developed the Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) in 2005. An autonomous all-terrain vehicle that can follow troops in the field, the SMSS carries batteries, packs and other gear, and it now also serves as a mobile charging station.
Utilizing a Laser Detection and Ranging (LADAR) system and obstacle-avoidance algorithms, the vehicle is “aware” of its surroundings, and is able to stay with troops as they walk. It can follow assigned waypoints, travel to designated points, follow roads and trails, operate in “come to me” mode, or follow an assigned person. The vehicle can also be controlled manually, via a handheld touchscreen remote. In its current Nett Warrior configuration, it sports six battery chargers, and can provide up to four kilowatts of power – enough to charge 146 batteries within ten hours.
It also contains a Mobile Network Integration Kit for network-to-platoon communications, and can carry up to 1,200 pounds (544 kg) of gear in total, which is reportedly more than what a full squad typically carries. Given that individual soldier’s packs can now weigh over 130 pounds (59 kg) each, it’s not surprising that carrying solutions are being sought.
The SMSS will be taking part in Portable Power Excursion tests next month with three test Companies of soldiers at Fort Riley, Kansas.