Between March and June 2021, the “Bison” Battle Group, primarily formed by the 126th Infantry Regiment [RI] de Brive, was equipped with four “ROBOPEX” robot mules during its release on the desert operational platform [PfOD] from Gao, Mali. It was the first time an army unit had deployed “land drones” during an overseas operation.
As a reminder, proposed by the GACI Rugged Systems Group, affiliated with the Israeli Robot Team, ROBOPEX had been selected by the Defense Innovation Agency [AID] in 2019 among the offers made by the Estonian Milrem Robotics [associé au français CNIM]Sharks Robotics [allié à Nexter] and Arquus, with the support of the Franco-German Saint-Louis Research Institute.
As initial feedback on its use by the Estonian contingent of the Barkhane force was positive, it was expected that Milrem Robotics’ THEMIS would be chosen by AID, especially as it had achieved better technical marks than its competitors. However, the offer from GACI Rugged Systems, based on a solution developed by the Israeli Roboteam, was the cheapest. However, this choice was criticized.
“We launched a European competition to acquire a robot and test it in operation. The winning SME in the competition is not Israeli, but 100% French. She offered in France to assemble mechanical and electronic components of Israeli origin, in the same way as a company uses components of Chinese origin to assemble a computer, “replied Emmanuel Chiva, the company’s director. ‘AID, on the occasion of a parliamentary hearing.
And to add: “It’s not a matter of acquiring a large series of robots […] This involves conducting an experiment that will allow us to determine the contours of what tomorrow’s mule robot could be that best meets the needs of our forces. […] This experimentation will make it possible to define the best match between class of robot and use in particular ”.
In Mali, the army wanted to use ROBOPEX, which was able to transport a load of 750 kg for eight hours, at a speed of 8 km / h, for “logistics missions” and “to create connections between two distant groups”.
Since the return of the four examples of “ROBOPEX” used in Gao, the Army has remained silent about the results of this experiment. Hence the written question put by Deputy François Cornut-Gentille to the Ministry of the Armed Forces. He replied on May 3rd. And of course, the results of these tests are mixed.
The use of these machines has thus, according to the Ministry of Defense, “enabled the army to characterize the operation of a state-of-the-art system as well as the specific issues associated with support in the operation of this type of platform.
If the experiments with “land robots of this range” have made it possible to show that they are “particularly suitable when the infantryman is engaged for a long time without being able to be accompanied by a combat vehicle”, they should not be necessary on the ground … ” the towing “of these robotic mules” of a combat vehicle does not appear to be recommended to bring them to the realm of evolution, “the Ministry of Armed Forces admits. What’s more, he continues, “the limitations of an electric robot that requires a dedicated means of recharging are too great to allow engagement in an unstructured environment”.
It was also to be expected, as the ministry admits, when it writes that “the expected limits of these systems, which have not been designed and developed for the needs of the army, have also been tested”.
However, as the director of AID had suggested, this attempt made it possible to draw up a “list of recommendations and requirements” for the benefit of the “teams”. […] responsible for future increases in the SCORPION program “, in particular on the” expected performance, transport, implementation, interface with a master vehicle and collaborative struggle “, it is detailed in the response from the Ministry.
As for the four ROBOPEX, they have since been “transferred to various army units, in particular the VULCAIN robot section”, which was set up in June 2021.