The Army’s Maneuver Battle Lab recently kicked off its months-long, annual experiments on new gear for squads and small units. This year’s focus runs from new machine gun suppressors to counter-drone technology.
The first assessment of the Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment happened in late October and included the M240 suppressor, but the core of the work will begin after the holidays when soldiers run squad and platoon-level force-on-force training.
In those phases, new tech such as digital-capable squad radio, electronic blank ammunition, mini-generators and other alternative fuels will be tested out in nearly real-world scenarios.
Last year, evaluators homed in on tactical resupply at low levels for squads, which will continue to see advances in this year’s demonstrations, according to an Army statement.
The experiments conclude in early March, and if the past two decades of the event are any indication, at least some of the more than 50 items being evaluated will make their way into formations in the near to mid-term future.
The categories that the Army is focusing on break out into lethality, mission command, mobility and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. In each category, between nine and 22 technologies are being evaluated.
♦ Enhanced incendiary grenade
This device would replace the standard AN-M14 incendiary grenade and would be able to penetrate up to 1 inch of steel as compared to the 1/8th inch that the current grenade can bust through.
♦ Short-range rocket
The SPIKE SR, or short-range, shoulder-fired direct fires support weapon, by Rafael Systems. The SPIKE SR has an effective range of 50m to 2,000m and is a disposable day/night direct fire missile. It is able to defeat an advanced main battle tank, armored vehicles and vehicle-borne IEDs. Its infrared and detector system with optimized tracking provides a 90 percent hit probability, even on moving targets at ranges from 200m to 2,000m.
♦ Drone Energetic Weapons Pod
This reusable pod fires three independently triggered fragmentation or explosively formed penetrators without damaging the drone that fires them. The pod can then be reloaded for continued engagement.
♦ Small generators
The personal power pack is a man-portable durable micro-generator that can produce 1.6-2kW of electrical output. It is a low noise, low signature, multi-fuel generator that weighs 33 pounds. Also, on the list are the Honey Badger 20 and 50, both lightweight fuel-cell generators that provide between 20W and 500W of power using windshield washer fluid or a combination of methanol and water.
A couple of ankle-only systems are being evaluated, one the Apex Ankle Exoskeleton claims to allow soldiers to run at high speed while carrying a 35-pound load. The same company’s ankle and knee combination aids soldiers carrying 90 to 275 pounds, especially down steep terrain. A smaller device, the exo-performance ankle solution, mainly provides additional ankle stability to minimize injury and also to stabilize an ankle post-injury, if needed.
♦ Drone transport
A variety of drone options are again being evaluated, to include Bell Autonomous Pod Transport 70, which carries up to a 70-pound payload with a range of 56km in less than 30 minutes travel time. Others include the Periscope Mark4 Heavy Lift drone that also runs automated resupply, carrying 60 pounds or more. And for larger lift, the Tactical Resupply Vehicle 80 and 150 carry those respective loads, either for air drop or manual offload and fit within a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle truck bed.
♦ Weapon Enabled Internet of Battlefield Things
This software links into the existing technology the Army is developing known as Rapid Target Acquisition to help soldiers identify targets and send that data up the chain of command for intelligence gathering and decision making.
The Farsight software from Reveal Technology allows commanders to create videos and still imagery for 2D or 3D mapping in real time in a disconnected, offline environment. This replaces continued viewing and reviewing of streaming drone video.
♦ Subterranean radios
The Shadow TW-950 and Ghost TW875 are multi-hop, MESH radio communications that can transport voice data and video in austere environments such as urban and subterranean. The company that makes the two radios, Trellisware, has equipment in both Army and Special Operations Command programs of record.
INTELLIGENCE, SURVEILLANCE AND RECONNAISSANCE
♦ Multi-agent Optical Sensor Array
The electro-optical chemical sensor can be distributed 1 kilometer from a position, deployed by a 40mm grenade launcher, air frame drop or fly into place via drone. It then senses any potential contamination and relays an autonomous alarm, using a small watch battery as its power supply.
♦ AirBoss ISR
The software platform can plan “smart routes” and fly small quadcopters or Group 1 drones autonomously. This allows an infantry platoon to conduct its own aerial surveillance without requesting higher echelon support.