SEOUL -- An advanced multi-purpose unmanned ground vehicle developed by Hanwha Defense, a South Korean defense company known for K9 self-propelled howitzers and infantry fighting vehicles, has been chosen for performance tests in the United States, paving the way for potential cooperation with the U.S. military’s future modernization programs.
This is the first time that a South Korean unmanned weapon system has joined the U.S. Army’s competitive field test and evaluation program. "This is a key achievement for Hanwha Defense and the South Korean defense industry," Seo Young-woo, head of Hanwha Defence's department of defense robotics and autonomous systems development, said in a statement on October 11.
Hanwha Defence said its electric unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), codenamed Arion-SMET, has been selected for the U.S. Defense Department's foreign comparative testing (FCT) program, which tests items and technologies of allies that have a high technology readiness level so as to satisfy valid defense requirements quickly and economically.
"Arion-SMET's participation in the FCT program proves our technologies of defense robotics and unmanned systems are already in the world class and recognized competitive enough to enter the U.S. and other foreign markets," Seo said. Comparative tests are to take place by the year’s end at the earliest at a U.S. Army base.
Arion-SMET is an acronym for autonomous and robotic systems for intelligence off-road navigation-small multi-purpose equipment transport. The intelligent unmanned vehicle was built primarily for supporting infantry operations such as transporting munition and weapons, evacuating the wounded, remote-controlled or autonomous reconnaissance and surveillance, and close combat support.
The two-ton Arion-SMET vehicle has attracted "lots of attention" at home and abroad because of its innovative functionalities, which are easily expandable, Seo said. At a military pilot operation in 2021, Hanwha Defense said the vehicle showed its excellent tactical operational capability.
The six-wheeled unmanned vehicle with a modularity-driven design to support various missions has evolved from an earlier four-wheeled 1.5-ton model that can move at a top speed of 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) per hour on paved roads, Hanwha Defense said, adding that the new vehicle capable of driving up to 100km when fully charged has a maximum speed of 43 km on paved roads and 34km on unpaved roads. It can carry up to 550 kilograms (1,102 pounds).
The Arion-SMET vehicle features autonomous off-road navigation, devices for tethering to follow a soldier or vehicle, autonomous homing for communication failure, and software for supporting manned and unmanned teaming (MUM-T) operations. It is armed with a deep neural network (DNN)-based remote-controlled weapons station (RCWS), which can detect and track enemy soldiers, localize the source of gunfire, and fire back.
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