The Army is planning imminent awards for upgraded unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) and robotic payloads needed to better counter unexploded ordnances (UXO).

Army officials at a Tuesday event on explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) said five Other Transaction Authority (OTA) awards to begin developing new autonomous vehicles with enhanced robotic payloads could arrive this month.

TALON Robot Photo: QinetiQ
Photo: QinetiQ

The Common Robotic System – Individual and Common Robotic System – Heavy efforts will lead the Army’s move towards more autonomous EOD missions that reduce reliance on more dangerous man-powered efforts and offer more interoperability with a wider range of already deployed sensors, according to Louis Analure, the UGV lead for the Army’s Project Manager Force Projection office.

Prototype production for both CRS(I) and CRS(H) is expected to begin in fiscal year 2019.

“Today and looking forward, our systems need to be improved. They need to be cyber secure. The radios need to be encrypted. And there’s a more deliberate approach that we ought to make sure the systems are secure and can’t be switched off by our adversaries,” Analure told attendees at the National Defense Industry Association event on EOD. “We are now finding a way to get these systems out quickly. We’re beginning to see things take effect. This is a very aggressive schedule, but we think it’s very doable.”

In April, the Army awarded Endeavor Robotics and QinetiQ North America contracts to develop prototypes for CRS(I), which is intended to be 25-pounds or less.

“This will represent one of the smallest systems that’s available and something that the Army’s really looking for as well,” Analure said.

The two companies are competing to deliver around 3,000 robots to the Army, with a downselect decision expected in the second quarter of FY ‘19.

“The CRS-I program helps our military take another step in bringing interoperable open architectures rapidly to the field. We need to make sure our latest robots not only perform the mission, but also are easy for users to control and adapt quickly to changing needs,” Tom Frost, president of Endeavor Robotics, said in an April statement.

The Army released a Phase 1 request for proposals for CRS(H) in May and five OTA awards are expected to be announced in August.

A firm fixed-price follow-on production contract for CRS(H) is expected for the fourth quarter of FY ‘19.

Analure described CRS(H) as a heavy, interoperability compliant and cyber security hardened UGV to handle all range of EOD operations, including UXOs and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.

Both CRS systems will be integrated with Enhanced Robotic Payloads (ERPs) that are currently in development, and intended to improve autonomous EOD operations for more challenging UXOs.

The new payloads will include obstacle avoidance, 3D mapping, extended range/mesh networking, multispectral overlay camera, dual arm manipulation, multi-shot disruptor/precision aiming module, and tethered unmanned aerial vehicle, according to Analure.

Col. Martin Weber, director of TRADOC Capability Manager – EOD, said the new ERPs will be critical for addressing modernization needs to handle UXO threats.

“The technology hasn’t changed. It just hasn’t. Why not? Why can’t we get something that we can put on a semi-autonomous or autonomous platform to get us to the point where we reduce the time and danger of handling UXOs and still be effective,” Weber said.