Soldiers in the modern area are required to perform many different types of missions. The more equipment an infantry soldier can carry may result in a completed mission or even save the soldiers life. An average 165lb soldier weighs 240 lbs with his rut sack, weapon and water supply. Lockheed Martin has designed a robot vehicle system called the Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment Vehicle (MULE) to help with such actions. This 6-wheeled vehicle is being currently developed into three major variants - the ARV-A (L) Armed Robotic Assault Light Vehicle designed to attack fixed positions and carry anti-tank missiles, the Counter Mine Vehicle (CMV) which can be used to locate buried mines and dispose of them and the Transport Vehicle (TV) which itself is the furthest along in development and is to be used to carry additional gear while in support of light infantry actions.
Naming the vehicle the MULE was by design. The actual mule is essentially an offspring between a horse and a donkey and takes the best attributes from both - sure-footed and strong like the donkey but easier to control while being strong and intelligent like the horse. The mule has always been a beast of burden and has worked with the US Army since the Colonial times and in fact became the U.S. Army’s mascot. Three such animals are kept at West Point and cared for by the cadets.
Some reports state that there are currently over 4,000 robots operating on land, air and at sea in Iraq and Afghanistan but robots in combat are not new developments. In 1940 the German Wehrmacht ordered a small vehicle developed to deliver a 50kg explosive charge. The "Goliath" resulted and carried a 60kg bomb, steered remotely by a joystick connected by 3 wires - two for steering and one for detonation. Thousands were built with limited success. Regardless, the idea was planted well before the computer wars of today.
The transport MULE is designed to follow and support two squads of infantry in the field and can be loaded with up to 2,000lbs of supplies. The mule weighs 3.5 tons (7,000lbs) and is operated by a single a soldier by way of a joystick. His interaction can place him remotely some miles away or an onboard GPS pre-computed route can be utilized in more dangerous locations. The significant advantage of the MULE is that they can go most anywhere. The drive system is a 6x6 wheel independent articulated suspension system with each wheel having individual hub motors, allowing the wheels to have a high mobility in difficult terrain. The center two wheels are slightly set back and have the ability to move vertically on the chassis - this allows the MULE to climb a one meter wall or cross a one meter ditch. The suspension can adjust to allow the mule to travel horizontally on a 40-degree slope with the center line of the vehicle load kept level. This is an advantage when transporting wounded soldiers. The system holds a water generation and purification system as well. Also the on board generator give the troops the ability to recharge personal equipment in the field.
The Mule moved into the SDD phase of development costing $290 million USD in 2003. All three variants are expected to be delivered to Afghanistan by mid-2011.