Rheinmetall Canada’s new unmanned ground vehicle, launched last week, is expected to pave the way for future “robotic ground task force capabilities” following testing with the Germany Army this fall and first deliveries to a Middle East customer by the end of the year.
The updated Mission Master Cargo UGV is intended to offer more modular capabilities, ranging from weapons systems to logistics support, and provide a single user control of up to 10 vehicles via a tablet or command post system.
“This is not radio-controlled. It works by giving a task to the UGV, and the UGV conducts the mission itself,” Alain Tremblay, Rheinmetall Canada’s vice president of business development, told Defense Daily at the Eurosatory conference in Paris. “With the connection to your soldier system, you can basically see this UGV as a bluetooth device that you can give a task with no additional hardware needed.”
Tremblay said an unnamed customer in the Middle East has already signed on for a development contract, with the first deliveries of the UGV expected before the end of 2018.
“This platform is under contract with a customer in the Middle East. It’s a comprehensive package for the Middle East client with a different sensor package, weaponized versions,” Tremblay said. “The Middle East contract is so big it allows us to continue the research, development and evolution of the vehicle.”
The Germany Army is testing a surveillance module of the UGV beginning this fall, which was designed to fit onto CH-53 and Chinook helicopters. Three other companies are testing their UGVs for program.
Officials at Eurosatory described the new vehicle as offering a chance for international customers to explore the possibility of “robotic ground task forces” to expand the capabilities of dismounted troops.
“If the clients want to go there, it’s not that difficult to go there,” Tremblay said. “To be quite frank, anyone can give you hardware. But we’re spending 80 percent of our time on the software. And this UGV has a level of autonomy that is very, very unique from that point of view.”
The UGV is able to navigate obstacles on its own using a combination of 2-D and 3-D radars, update maps autonomously and send data to all vehicles within range and operate in GPS-denied environments.
Rheinmetall officials are working to expand the number of vehicles a single operator can control, with the goal of having dozens of vehicles carry out complex tasks with the push of a button on tablet.
“We do believe that by mid-next year or the end of 2019, a team of half a dozen people should be able to give tasks to UGV’s on up to 70 platforms,” Tremblay said.
The Germany Army is evaluating a version of the UGV capable of following an armored vehicle without attachments and up to speeds of 80 km per hour.
“There is no limit to the number of UGVs that can follow one another. You can have one guy in front and the entire 10 UGVs will follow you. If you run, they pick up speed. If you stop, they stop,” Tremblay said. “One vehicle controlled by one operator using one radio frequency is easy. But no battlespace will allow you to have 60 radio frequencies to operate 60 of those UGVs. So you need to find a way for the UGVs to operate on their own with a limited amount of transmissions.”
An Army official confirmed that next-generation combat vehicle priorities include moving beyond “one controller, one robot” for its autonomous vehicle capabilities (Defense Daily, June 15).
Tremblay said, however, that there is little U.S. market interest in the Mission Master and is above the capability ceiling that the Army is currently looking for.
“To be very frank, this is too much technology for what the U.S. military wants. The U.S. market has a price ceiling that is well below this. There is too much technology, software, electronics on this base platform model than what they’re looking for,” Tremblay said. “It’s a level of sophistication that the Americans will get to one day, but right now this is not where they’re going.”