Following the acquisition of ground robotics technology innovator Howe & Howe Technologies last month, Textron Systems says it has filled a gap in its need for expertise in unmanned ground vehicles to round out its offerings and capabilities in unmanned aircraft and maritime surface systems, a company official said on Thursday.

Given changes in geo-politics the past two years and a shift in U.S. defense strategy away from counter-insurgency operations toward peer-to-peer conflict, Textron Systems reviewed its needs and found a gap in robotic ground vehicle technology, Ryan Hazlett, senior vice president for Global Military Strategy, said on a media teleconference. The acquisition positions the company to be a leader in autonomy and unmanned systems in the air, maritime surface and ground domains.

Howe & Howe Technologies’ Ripsaw extreme vehicle super tank platform. Photo: Howe & Howe

Textron Systems, which is an operating segment of Textron [TXT], has a well-established manned ground systems business, the RQ-7 Shadow tactical and Aerosonde small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), ground control stations for UAS, and has developed the Common Unmanned Surface Vessel, a small patrol boat-sized system for autonomous and remote maritime operations.

With its ground control station and command and control capabilities combined with a suite of unmanned product offerings, Textron Systems is positioned to provide interoperable solutions to the Army, Navy and allies, Hazlett said.

Textron Systems last October announced its intent to acquire Maine-based Howe & Howe and closed the deal on Dec. 17. Terms of the deal haven’t been disclosed. The small robotics company has 35 employees, who will all be retained, Hazlett said, adding that there are no current plans to expand the new business.

Howe & Howe, which will also operate as a Rapid Application Think Tank, or “Rat Works,” for Textron Systems, will continue to focus on developing its various technologies, work to rapidly and affordably develop technologies to meet customers’ needs, and develop technology “for the purity of innovation,” Mike Howe, senior vice president of Howe & Howe, said on the call.

Geoff Howe, Mike’s brother and co-founder of their company and also a senior vice president, said that with the Rat Works, the company plans to develop amphibious capabilities from existing technologies and also adapt commercially-available technologies like hybrid-electric drives for military use.

Hazlett said Textron Systems plans to let Howe & Howe do “what they do best,” which is innovation for new platforms and capabilities.

Howe & Howe is one of four companies downselected by the Army in December 2017 to participate in trials for the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET), an unmanned ground vehicle the service may acquire to carry up to 1,000-pounds of gear for an infantry squad.

Geoff Howe said eight of the company’s RS2-H1 SMET vehicles were used by soldiers in a recent eight-day evaluation in cold weather and mountainous terrain at Fort Drum in N.Y., adding that no field service representatives were present and all the vehicles returned functional.

The RS2-H1s are “super” rugged and reliable, he said.

A further downselect for SMET is expected in mid-2019, Mike Howe said. The other companies that were selected to participate in the SMET trials include General Dynamics [GD], Polaris Industries [PII], and HDT Global.

Howe & Howe has also developed a lightweight, tracked, unmanned system called Ripsaw, an extreme vehicle super tank platform that the company hopes to offer for the Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle. Geoff Howe said the Army is close to releasing requirements for the RCV and that so far they are similar or exact to Ripsaw. He also said a request for proposals is expected soon for an RCV prototype.

Textron Systems gives Howe & Howe access to manufacturing capability and capacity and marketing channels, all three executives said. Geoff Howe said that Textron will allow Howe & Howe to “grow” its capabilities.