The UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has purchased a fleet of five autonomous unmanned ground vehicle (UGVs) systems designed to deliver supplies to front-line personnel safely.

Dstl awarded contracts worth a total of £5m to HORIBA MIRA and QinetiQ to produce ‘a number of’ UGVs and further the development of autonomous systems under the Ministry of Defence (MOD) Transformation fund.

Dstl said that the contracts were part of ‘early de-risking work’ and will be used to develop the MOD’s knowledge of the systems’ capabilities and limitations in an operational setting before issuing further work or contracts.

The MOD’s ‘Project Theseus’ is overseeing the development and field testing of autonomous logistic resupply systems and was launched following a Dstl-led challenge to look at how autonomous systems could improve ‘last mile’ resupplying.

UK Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) is also set to launch a ‘significant competition’ that will further build on Project Theseus later this year.

Dstl autonomy lead Peter Stockel said: “These contracts are a demonstration of the continued commitment to progressing autonomous systems as innovative approaches for developing future Land force logistic capability. Under the Autonomous Last Mile Challenge, we have conducted a number of in-depth trials both in the UK and with our partners in the US.

“These UGV systems will be used to undertake a series of technical evaluations and user utility assessments with the British Army and other users to rapidly advance MOD’s understanding under the ‘Prototype Warfare’ agenda.”

The vehicles are due to be delivered this Summer, with Dstl first expected to take delivery of three HORIBA MIRA all-terrain VIKING 6×6 Unmanned Ground Vehicles. Each vehicle can carry up to 750kg of equipment and uses AI-based autonomy along with GPS-based navigation to deliver supplies to the front line.

Later in the autumn, Dstl is set to receive two tracked TITAN Unmanned Ground Systems from QinetiQ. Both systems will undergo extensive experimentation and testing.

British Army head of capability for combat service support Brigadier Darrell Amison said: “Robotic and autonomous systems will provide commanders with more options to support a Land force operating at greater reach, dispersal and higher tempo.

“We look forward to ongoing collaboration with Dstl, wider defence, and our strategic and commercial partners as we drive forward this ground-breaking and exciting project.”

Dstl is set to undergo scientific trials and user trials alongside the army’s Combat Service Support Training and Development Unit (CSS TDU) in Aldershot as well as other units from the British Army.

HORIBA MIRA senior commercial manager for defence systems said: “Autonomous systems present the British Army with game-changing capabilities, redefining how we will conduct future operations.

“Building on more than a decade of experience in deploying autonomous technology into military applications, HORIBA MIRA has applied an agile and fast track approach that will enable the army to field this equipment and meet its critical objectives. We are immensely proud that VIKING, with its market-leading capability, has been selected to support this critical programme.”

QinetiQ director for research experimentation and innovation said: “Working to the principles of “Prototype Warfare”, as adopted by the British Army, the Joint Tactical Autonomous Resupply and Replenishment (JTARR) risk-reduction contract is a prime example of how QinetiQ is taking an agile approach to delivering solutions into the hands of the military for evaluation whilst continuing spiralled capability development.”

The British Army is looking to further the capabilities of manned-unmanned teaming with several capabilities ordered under the MOD Transformation Fund. This year’s Army Warfighting Experiment (19) is set to have a focus on how personnel can work alongside unmanned vehicles.

Integration and testing are also undergoing with the Infantry Trials and Development Unit (ITDU) and TommyWorks both factoring unmanned systems into their development of a future soldier system.