Shown above is the unmanned ground vehicle of Hanwha Defense, which is set to join the U.S. Army’s competitive field test and evaluation program. Photo courtesy of Hanwha Defense

Korean defense giant gets upside potentials in the United States

Hanwha Defense announced on Oct. 11 that its unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) would join the U.S. Army’s competitive field test and evaluation program.

The UGV, codenamed Arion-SMET, was selected as one of the equipment for the foreign comparative testing (FCT) operated by the Office of the Secretary of Defense under the U.S. Department of Defense, according to Hanwha Defense.

The FCT aims to test items and technologies of U.S. foreign allies that have a high technology readiness level (TRL) so as to satisfy valid defense requirements quickly and economically.

This is the first time that a South Korean unmanned weapon system has been chosen for performance tests in the United States, paving the way for potential cooperation with the U.S. military’s future modernization programs.

“This is a key achievement for Hanwha Defense and the South Korean defense industry,” Hanwha Executive Vice President Seo Young-woo said.

“Arion-SMET’s participation in the FCT program proves our technologies of defense robotics and unmanned systems are already in the world-class and recognized competitive enough to enter the U.S. and other foreign markets.”

Following the FCT decision, the company is discussing the detailed measures with the U.S. military authorities on how to conduct field tests on mission capabilities, as the comparative tests on the Arion-SMET are expected to take place by the year’s end at the earliest, at a U.S. Army base.

The Arion-SMET is an acronym for Autonomous and Robotic systems for Intelligence off-road navigation – small multi-purpose equipment transport.

The 2-ton vehicle is a 6×6 UGV that evolved from a 4×4 multi-purpose UGV developed in 2019 under a civil-miliary joint research and development program led by Hanwha Defense.

The South Korean Army successfully operated the ARION-SMET last year to trial the vehicle’s tactical operational capability.

Hanwha Defense noted that the Arion-SMET had been built primarily for supporting infantry operations such as transporting munition and weapons; evacuating the wounded; remote-controlled or autonomous reconnaissance and surveillance; and close combat support.

The vehicle has a modularity-driven design to support various missions. Some of the key technologies of the ARION-SMET include autonomous off-road navigation; devices for tethering to follow a soldier or vehicle; autonomous homing for communication failure; and software for supporting MUM-T operations, Hanwha said.

The vehicle is armed with a deep neural network (DNN)-based remote-controlled weapons station (RCWS), which can detect/ track enemy soldiers, localize the source of gunfire, and fire back in the direction of the gunfire coming from.

With these innovative functionalities, the Arion SMET is optimized for supporting manned and unmanned teaming (MUM-T) operations for infantry troops, Hanwha Defense claimed.

“Along with those great, legacy weapon systems such as K9, Hanwha Defense has striven to deliver robotics and autonomous systems with superb and tailor-made capabilities since 2006,” Seo said.

“The Arion-SMET is the latest edition to this effort that would stand strong at the era of ushering in manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T), and recently gets lots of attention from the domestic and international market as its functionalities are easily expandable and its capabilities are very competitive.”

The electric-powered Arion-SMET offers high mobility with a maximum speed of 43kph on paved roads and 34kph on unpaved roads.

The vehicle can drive up to 100km when fully charged and has a maximum payload capacity of 550kg, Hanwha Defense stated.