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U.S. Army solidifies UGV Commitment

Recent program responsibility ceremonies reinforce the U.S. Army’s continuing commitment to unmanned ground vehicle capabilities while laying the foundation for anticipated Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) decisions surrounding the Army’s Brigade Combat Team – Modernization (BCTM) program.

The recent ceremonies, held Jan. 5, 2011 in Huntsville, Ala., marked the formal transfer of the office of Product Manager for Unmanned Ground Vehicles from the Program Executive Office Integration (PEO I) to the PEO Ground Combat Systems (PEO GCS). During the ceremonies, Maj. Gen. John Bartley, program executive officer, PEO I, transitioned the authority of the Product Manager UGV charter to Scott Davis, program executive officer, PEO GCS.

The office of Product Manager UGV consists of a government team that works closely with their prime contractors to manage multiple programs, including the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (XM1216) and the Multifunction and Utility/Logistics Equipment (MULE) UGV which incorporates the Autonomous Navigation System (ANS).

The SUGV, as an example, is described by manufacturer iRobot Corporation as “a smaller and lighter version of the combat-proven PackBot. It is designed to give warfighters real-time awareness of critical situations and to allow them to complete missions from safe standoff distances. It is ideal for dangerous reconnaissance missions such as entering buildings, caves and tunnels.”

iRobot and Boeing developed the SUGV family of vehicles under a strategic alliance that began in 2007 as part of the Army’s Brigade Combat Team Modernization (BCTM) program.

According to Army program overviews, SUGV and the other PM UGV systems noted above “will support both the mounted and dismounted forces on the battlefield. Tactical units equipped with these UGVs will employ a new operational paradigm with unprecedented capabilities to seize and control key terrain and destroy enemy forces. The UGVs currently in combat and being developed by the RS JPO team are revolutionizing the way the U.S.  Army and Marine Corps fights and will give a decisive edge to our warfighters in the future.”

Lt. Col. Jay Ferreira is the current incumbent Product Manager UGV and will continue to serve in that role under the authority of Lt. Col. (P) Dave Thompson, Project Manager, Robotic Systems Joint Project Office (RS JPO).

Perhaps not coincidentally, the UGV transition ceremonies came just one day after iRobot Corporation announced that the BCTM “Increment 1” production purchase contract had been finalized for a firm fixed price value of $13.9 million.

That contract calls for iRobot to deliver 45 Small Unmanned Ground Vehicles (SUGVs) as part of the Army’s low-rate initial production contract for the first brigade set of BCTM Increment 1 capabilities. To date, 30 SUGVs have been delivered, with the remaining 15 to be delivered in January 2011. The purchase contract also includes training, field service support and spares.

“We are pleased to be delivering these SUGVs so that the Army can continue its verification testing for the BCTM program,” said Robert Moses, president of iRobot’s Government and Industrial Robots division. “Unmanned ground vehicles have proven their worth on the battlefield, and we believe that SUGV is an incredibly important piece of technology for the Army moving forward.”

Moreover, as of this writing, Army officials are reportedly awaiting the Acquisition Decision Memorandum stemming from the mid-January Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) review of the BCTM program. Although specifics of that DAB decision have yet to be announced, it is believed to encompass approval for two more low rate initial production brigade sets of SUGV.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...