Underwater or on Land - All Unmanned

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Imagine a large truck convoy hauling freight on the highway…without front seat drivers.

Or, a small vehicle plumbing the ocean depths to inspect a deep-sea oil rig or cruising through an area to identify unseen hazards, while sailors remain in positions of safety.

Not confined to the skies, unmanned ground and undersea capabilities are expanding the reach, safety and effectiveness of exploration and military missions around the world.  

LAND BASED, GROUND-BREAKING

Lockheed Martin developed the Squad Mission Support System—or SMSS—the largest unmanned vehicle ever deployed with U.S. ground forces. To lighten a soldier’s load, early entry and special operations forces can use it for transport and logistical support.

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Over the last several years, the SMSS has participated in nine demonstrations with the U.S. Army and other governments. In fact, Don Nimblett, Lockheed Martin’s business development lead for unmanned ground vehicles, said a U.S. Army unit employed four SMSS vehicles for five months in Afghanistan, and they performed very well.

“We put the vehicles in the hands of operators in a real combat environment, and the platoon leaders lauded SMSS performance,” Nimblett said.

Now, the focus is on expanding into the commercial market and increasing the vehicle’s autonomy, reliability and power—as well as improving software and sensors. According to Nimblett, commercial prospects promise to be greater than the military market long term.

“Commercial players are seeing a need for different variants,” said Nimblett. “Security services at fixed sites such as storage depots and nuclear plants hold great opportunities.”

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Another promising technology is the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System—or AMAS—a multi-platform kit integrating low-cost sensors and control systems onto military vehicles to enable autonomous convoy operations. AMAS provides the ability to run autonomous convoys with trucks and other types of vehicles on highways and even in city traffic.

“I’ve witnessed a nine-vehicle convoy without a driver in the lead truck on a closed-road situation,” said Nimblett. “The robotic vehicle as a commodity is going to explode here shortly as people are seeing the value. We need to keep advancing the capabilities and expanding our offerings to support customers such as firefighting, police, swift water recovery, search and rescue, and site security.”

SIGHT UNDER SEA

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Lockheed Martin developed the Marlin Autonomous Underwater Vehicle and the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV), two prime examples of advanced unmanned undersea applications.

Originally designed for the military, and with great potential for civilian use, Marlin is an agile 10-foot, 2,000-pound unmanned submarine equipped with sonar and sensors, including 3-D laser imaging. It offers a quick and safe way to conduct subsea surveys and inspections.

Marlin can dramatically enhance underwater operations for the oil and gas industry by providing faster, safer and more efficient inspections in place of divers or tethered vehicles. It effectively extends the situational awareness of the undersea environment.

“Many new oil fields are in very deep water, about 8,000 feet and deeper, and it takes a long time to get a remotely operated vehicle overboard and down that far,” said Rich Holmberg, vice president of Mission and Unmanned Systems at Lockheed Martin. “In the future, our deep water autonomous vehicles will be field resident rather than ship resident, staying underwater for months to monitor the integrity of subsea oil field production systems.”

The RMMV provides the future primary mine reconnaissance capability as part of the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Mine Countermeasures Mission Package. It uses unmanned, off-board systems to detect and neutralize mines without endangering sailors or ships.

“The RMMV can tow a sophisticated sonar looking for mines in the water column and along the bottom, and it can do that for up to 24 hours, even at over-the-horizon distances, then return to the ship,” said Holmberg. “It’s also significantly faster and much more cost effective than legacy manned mine-hunting systems.”

As these unmanned ground and underwater systems continue to evolve, they will play a significant role in improving the safety, efficiency and effectiveness of military and commercial industry applications on land and undersea.

Published September 8, 2015