Robotic Mules Could Deploy with Army Advisers to Afghanistan

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The Army's Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET), a remote-controlled robotic mule is capable of carrying up to 1,000 pounds of ammunition, water and other combat necessities. (Screenshot from U.S. Army Video/Sgt. Thomas Scaggs)
The Army's Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET), a remote-controlled robotic mule is capable of carrying up to 1,000 pounds of ammunition, water and other combat necessities. (Screenshot from U.S. Army Video/Sgt. Thomas Scaggs)

The head of Army Futures Command said Thursday that the first fruits of the service's ambitious modernization effort will soon be in the hands of soldiers on real-world missions.

As AFC commander, Gen. Mike Murray is overseeing long-term, complex programs, from future helicopters to optionally manned combat vehicles. But he said the service hopes to get some of the smaller-scale soldier technology into the field as soon as possible.

"The Army's first priority in terms of resources will always be to soldiers in contact," he told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.

As an example, Murray singled out the Army's Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET), a remote-controlled robotic mule capable of carrying up to 1,000 pounds of ammunition, water and other combat necessities for small units.

The service hopes to start fielding the SMET next year after successful testing with units from the 10th Mountain and 101st Airborne divisions.

The SMET's performance during a recent demonstration caught the eye of Brig. Gen. Scott Jackson, commander of 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, Murray said.

"He is interested in potentially taking that with them on their next mission," he said.

During its first deployment to Afghanistan, the 1st SFAB was issued new "comms equipment" designed to work with the Army's future mobile, tactical network -- one of the priorities under the service's modernization effort.

"The SFAB was the first unit equipped with the basics of what we are working on in terms of the network," Murray said.

The Army is also planning on fielding the first infantry brigade combat team in fiscal 2023 with the Next-Generation Squad Weapon, a high-tech, 6.8mm weapon system designed to replace the M249 squad automatic weapon and the M4 carbine in infantry and other close-combat units.

"That will probably go overseas first if we are still in contingency operations, which I am guessing we probably will be," Murray said. "The focus is on making sure soldiers in contact have exactly what they need when they need it."

While operational feedback is always useful, Murray made it clear that combat units will not be required to serve as guinea pigs if a system isn't ready for fielding.

"One thing I am very focused on is, I am not going to force anything on a unit or soldiers that they don't want," he said.

"As we develop, really, knowledge across the Army of the things that we are working on -- if either an [operational needs statement] comes in on it or a commander expresses the need for a capability, we will be happy to provide it.," Murray added.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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