Unmanned and Ready: The US Army is refurbishing a portion of its robot fleet, including the Talon IV, by QinetiQ. (Maj. Penny Zamora/ / US Army)
Nov. 15, 2014 -By JOE GOULD – Defense News
WASHINGTON — The US Army is pruning 40 percent of its ground robotics fleet, removing obsolete or excess robots before it goes to a single ground machine, according to Program Executive Office Combat Support and Combat Service Support (PEO CS&CSS).
The Army plans to refurbish 1,477 of its ground robots, which is about 60 percent of the total fleet, said Michael Clow, PEO CS&CSS strategic communication lead.
“After reset, current robots will be fielded to units to use as bridge capabilities until final programs of record are fielded, at which time the reset robots will be replaced by the program of record equipment,” Clow said.
The robots due for reset:
■ 353 QinetiQ Talon IVs, of which 296 will go to Army engineers and 57 to the National Guard.
■ 224 iRobot 510 FasTac Packbots.
■ 219 Dragon Runner 10s by QinetiQ.
■ 436 iRobot FirstLooks.
■ 245 iRobot 310s.
The Army’s Robot Logistics Support Center at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan is conducting the reset. The center has performed field and sustainment-level maintenance on the Army’s robots for the past eight years. The robots will be reset to a baseline configuration unless obsolescence requires a revised configuration, Clow said.
Speaking at an Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference here, the Army’s force development chief, Maj. Gen. Robert Dyess, generally echoed Army leaders’ dire predictions for the service’s budget, but he said “there is light” for unmanned ground systems.
The president’s 2016 budget, he said, is expected to shift ground robots fielded on an ad hoc basis during the wars into formal programs, albeit at a slower pace and with less funding than manufacturers may prefer.
“Development for the Army is relatively limited right now,” Dyess told reporters after his remarks. “It’s more like, ‘fix what we have and make it better, and have fewer things in development because there’s this desert you have to cross before you’re fully funded.’ ”
The Army invested more than $730 million in unmanned ground vehicles, which were rapidly fielded to Afghanistan and Iraq. Few are interoperable, are optimized to share information or have payloads, sensors or software that aren’t outmoded. The result is a mixed fleet of systems with high sustainment costs
Through its Man Transportable Robotic System (MTRS) program, the Army is switching out proprietary for government-owned hardware and software in its 900 Talon robots and the 300 PackBots, using an engineering change proposal, Dyess said.
Under the current phase of MTRS, Increment 2, the Army will move to a single unmanned ground vehicle with one configuration, Clow said. The program anticipates a production decision next summer before a request for proposals in 2016.
Meanwhile, Congress’ inability to pass a budget could derail a separate Army robotics procurement program — the Common Robotic System Individual (CRS-I). It’s intended to yield a new backpack-carried ground robot for surveillance missions, or bombs and hazardous materials, for soldiers on foot.
According to Dyess, the CRS-I would likely be delayed if Congress passes a continuing resolution, which would fund the government at last year’s level. Congress has not passed a defense budget on time since 2005.
CRS-I is intended to replace the terminated small unmanned ground vehicle program — at half the weight and cost, Dyess said.
The CRS-I, announced in an Army market survey in June, would weigh 20 pounds or less and allow a soldier to set it up in five minutes and operate it from up to 300 meters away. It would feature a joint plug-and-play architecture for sensors, claw arms and other peripherals, which allows the government to procure and service these separately.
Army officials have briefed a plan to begin fielding the CRS-I in 2020 as a joint program with the Marine Corps, for a total of 5,266 systems. The CRS-I program is working toward a materiel development decision this summer, according to PEO CS&CSS.
“Rules regarding continuing resolutions and new program start activities certainly could impact many programs if passed — including CRS-I,” Clow said. “As with all programs, we will adjust to budgetary changes as needed while continuing to pursue the timely delivery of improved, affordable capabilities for America’s soldiers.”
QinetiQ is among the companies that responded to the CRS-I market survey and is awaiting the Army’s final requirements for MTRS, said Jason Montano, the company’s product manager for Talon robots. For the latter, QinetiQ is offering its Talon V, which is compliant with the Army’s plug-and-play interoperability architecture, he said.
The Talon V, Montano said, sports a host of electronics upgrades, including a more powerful processor, more communications throughput and, physically, it is better able to climb stairs and lift heavier objects.
“It’s a product we have been working hard on for the last three or four years,” Montano said. “It’s the next-generation robot to benefit soldiers and keep soldiers out of harm’s way.”