General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) has received a $162.4m contract from the US Army to produce 624 small multipurpose equipment transport (S-MET) units to reduce soldier loads.

The S-MET programme is designed to procure a robotic ‘mule’ capability for infantry brigade combat teams (IBCT).

Deliveries under the contract will start in the second quarter of 2021.

The S-MET is an unmanned/optionally manned system capable of carrying 1,000lb of load. The capability is estimated to lighten the weight burden of each soldier by more than 100lb when deployed with a rifle squad.

The system has an endurance of more than 60 miles in 72 hours and a power generation capacity of 3kW when stationary and 1kW while moving.

In April 2017, the US Army initiated a rapid materiel acquisition process to acquire a robotic capability for the IBCTs.

The army awarded other transaction authority (OTA) agreements under S-MET Phase I in June 2017 for eight platforms.

US Army Combat Support programme executive officer Timothy Goddette said: “The S-MET programme has focused on meeting the army’s emphasis on enhancing soldier lethality and rapidly fielding modernised capabilities.

“Our product management team for applique and large unmanned ground systems undertook a great challenge to develop a strategy using experimentation and technical demonstrations to streamline the S-MET acquisition process.

“Using an innovative contracting approach through an other transaction authority, a flexible, collaborative tool designed to speed acquisition and modernisation, the S-MET team awarded this capability within two and a half years. Using normal acquisition processes, it could have taken as much as five years.”

The army had shortlisted four contractors in November 2017 for the S-MET Phase II technology demonstration following assessment and operational feedback from soldiers.

Under the programme’s second phase, the four selected contractors had to produce 20 platforms.

The S-MET prototypes were later delivered to IBCTs within the 10th Mountain and the 101st Airborne divisions in the first quarter of 2019 to undergo the technology demonstration.