UNMANNED SYSTEMS: Robotic Transport/Supply Vehicles Deliver the Goods

October 6, 2015 at 11:46 pm Leave a comment

By Land, Sea or Air.

The K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter. (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

The K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter.
(Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

The military is exploring ways that unmanned systems, from helicopters to submarines, can be used to transport supplies in hostile or dangerous areas.

Last year, Lockheed Martin and Kaman’s unmanned K-MAX helicopter returned from nearly three years of transporting cargo for the Marine Corps in Afghanistan — the first unmanned helicopter to do so.

With their supply truck convoys frequent targets of roadside bombs and insurgent attacks, the Marines were looking for a safer alternative. K-MAX’s cargo transportation was able to take an estimated 900 trucks off the road and their drivers and escorts out of harm’s way.

But transporting supplies isn’t limited to unmanned aircraft. Manned ground vehicles–from small, rugged all-terrain vehicles to heavy cargo trucks are being converted into autonomously operating vehicles.

The same is true of the optionally manned Proteus, a dual mode underwater vehicle that can deliver special operations forces swimmers or their equipment and supplies to shore from a submerged submarine.

Battelle and Huntington Ingalls Industries' Proteus submersible is a dual mode underwater vehicle. The battery-powered 8,240-pound craft can transport up to 3,600 pounds of cargo autonomously from the dry deck shelter of a submarine to shore. (Photo courtesy Batelle)

Battelle and Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Proteus submersible is a dual mode (manned/unmanned) underwater vehicle. The battery-powered 8,240-pound craft can transport up to 3,600 pounds of cargo autonomously from the dry deck shelter on a submarine to shore.
(Photo courtesy Battelle)

Originally developed by as a swimmer delivery vehicle (SDV) for up to six Navy SEALS, Proteus, a massive 8,000-pound submersible, is now being leased by the Navy for testing as a dual mode vehicle that can operate as manned SDV or a cargo-carrying unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV). “The idea of using it as an unmanned mule is very feasible,” says George Geoghegan, maritime systems manager for Battelle — which together with shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries — owns and operates Proteus.

The almost 26-foot-long Proteus has 170 cubic feet of space in its cargo area and exterior side rails that can carry bulkier cargo, although the maximum total payload is limited to 1,100 pounds. Cargo will either have to be sealed in watertight packaging or be water resistant because the cabin is flooded when underway as part of its original mission: to allowing divers to enter and exit the vehicle while submerged. But that also means there’s more room for payload.

Powered by 20 lithium polymer batteries that weigh about 100 pounds each when underway, Proteus has a range of about 350 nautical miles at an energy-saving low speed of 3 knots, and a maximum speed of 9 knots fully-loaded, according to Geoghegan. Like an SDV, Proteus can be transported to a denied area in the dry deck shelter of a submarine. It can work at depths of 150 feet when manned, 200 feet unmanned.

Unmanned, the vessel can be pre-programmed to run underwater from point to point but it does not have obstacle avoidance capability. However, Geoghegan says that’s just another payload that can be added.

A Polaris xxxxxxx used in the GUSS autonomous squad vehicle study by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab. (Photo courtesy of Polaris Defense)

A Polaris 6X6 used in the GUSS autonomous squad vehicle study by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab.
(Photo courtesy of Polaris Defense)

Polaris Defense offers their entire line of rugged ground vehicles as capable of manned or unmanned operation. “We build our vehicles with the ability to be optionally unmanned. And it’s everything from tele-operated to fully unmanned,” said General Manager Rich Haddad, adding “we’re not an autonomy company. We’re agnostic about whose autonomy package goes on the vehicle.”

But the company has acquired a ground guidance software package called Primordial “that could easily morph into a mission planning type of capability. We are integrating that into our vehicle but it is not in itself an autonomy package,” Haddad said.

Polaris supplies a range of all terrain vehicles for elements of U.S. Special Operations Command.

Polaris supplied the ground vehicles that contestants were required to drive in DARPA’s Robotic Challenge to identify robots that could perform human tasks in disasters. And a Polaris 6×6 vehicle was converted by TORC Robotics into the autonomous and semi-autonomous Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate (GUSS) that is being studied by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab.

To read more on this topic, click here to see our story in Military Logistics Forum magazine’s September issue (pages 8-9).

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Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Aircraft, Marine Corps, National Security and Defense, Naval Warfare, Navy, Skills and Training, Special Operations, Technology, Unconventional Warfare, Unmanned Aircraft, Unmanned Systems, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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