Back in the day, military mules could be an ornery bunch.
So ornery, in fact, that they sometimes had to be put down flat, just so they could put shoes on them.
But their value was immense, especially in difficult terrain, such as Burma, or other challenging theatres of war.
Today, the modern infantryman can carry anywhere between 60 to 120 pounds into battle.
Ammunition, medical supplies, food, water, it all adds up and when it does, soldiers slow down. Soldiers carrying packs that weigh a third or more of their overall body weight are significantly less mobile and arrive at their objective fatigued, reducing their overall effectiveness.
Modern warfare, with anti-tank weapons, radios, and body armor has made a soldier’s load heavier, not lighter.
Meanwhile, a company recently selected as the winner of a program to create a “robotic mule” for troops to carry a squad’s worth of gear will have the next year to roll out the automated addition to soldiers, according to a report by Todd South in Army Times.
The Army picked an offering by General Dynamics in the Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport category, or SMET, in late 2019 — the Land Systems MUTT (Multi-Utility Tactical Transport).
The US$162.4 million contract kicks off what eventually will be 624 MUTTs for the Army, which are slated to field to units by 2021.
The device takes the load off of soldiers by carrying water, ammunition, batteries and other items for sustaining a squad in remote environments.
The MUTT will run both unmanned and optionally manned, be able to carry 1,000 pounds, traveling over a distance of 60 miles in a 72-hour period while also providing 3kw of power while stationary and 1kw while moving for charging equipment and batteries.
It can also be tailored to missions such as running remote weapons stations, casualty evacuation and launching unmanned aerial systems or conducting reconnaissance.
Soldiers with 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, and 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, along with Marines from 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, tested the SMET over most of 2019 as part of feedback for the Army eventually choosing the GD Land Systems variant.
The MUTT is an 8×8 unmanned ATV designed to follow soldiers on their route, carrying their gear for them and allowing them to concentrate on the mission.
It uses a wireless tethering system that allows the vehicle to track and follow an individual soldier in an infantry squad, trailing him or her like a pack animal. It could even act as a mothership for a flying drone.
MUTT can also carry support weapons, such as the M4 Gustav recoilless rifle, Javelin anti-tank missile and spare ammunition.
It can also carry wounded soldiers, freeing up those that might otherwise carry them from the battlefield to continue performing their missions.
A remote controlled MUTT could scout out areas before human soldiers enter them, probing for ambushes, or lay ambushes themselves with remotely fired machine guns, grenade launchers, and anti-tank missiles.