Milrem Robotics’ THeMIS unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) has completed its first deployment in Mali with Estonian soldiers serving with the French-led Operation Barkhane mission.
Milrem Robotics on 5 May said the deployment proved the effectiveness and reliability of the vehicle.
The THeMIS (Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry System) was initially deployed to Mali with the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) in April 2019. Up until April 2020, the vehicle was regularly used during patrols by Estonian soldiers and for transporting supplies within their base. From September, the vehicle was used in foot patrols in Gao. Altogether three Estonian platoons utilised the vehicle during their deployments.
“During the deployment, the THeMIS traversed 1 200 km in one of the world’s harshest terrains of lava rock soil and climates climbing to 50 degrees Celsius in the shade. The UGV was operational for over 330 hours,” Milrem said.
The initial plan was to test the THeMIS for up to four months, but this was extended to 2020.
The EDF said the vehicle withstood Mali’s harsh environment as well as attacks. “The machine was at the heart of a terrorist attack on July 22, only a couple of metres away from the suicide vehicle, with the explosion having direct impact on the system. The explosion mainly affected the body of the machine, yet the critical components of it withstood nearly 200 kilos of explosive material, and the UGV remained operational.”
“Partitioned urban areas can be challenging, and one cannot always depend on APC [armoured personnel carrier] support. The opportunity to bring along a half-ton of ammunition and water to places unreachable with an APC added great value to patrols and enhanced combat capability,” said Lt Col Sten Allik, Senior Staff Officer of the Estonian Defence Forces.
“The THeMIS surprised us with its ability to withstand the tough environment. The heat and harsh terrain put the vehicle to the test; however, it passed with ease,” Allik added.
The THeMIS UGV in Mali was used as both a support and observation platform and was equipped with cameras for improved situational awareness.
“We collected a lot of valuable data and feedback during the deployment and although EDF’s experience with the THeMIS was positive, there is always room for improvement,” said Kuldar Väärsi, CEO of Milrem Robotics. “However, after this experience in Mali, we are confident that the THeMIS is more than capable of supporting operations in extremely hot climates,” Väärsi added.
In the future, Milrem said the EDF would like to use the THeMIS together with additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), communication support, jamming, and remote weapon system capabilities (the French Army, meanwhile, is looking at integrating the MMP missile onto the THeMIS).
“The possibility to detect and neutralize the enemy or an explosive device from a distance is a crucial capability. It is easier to risk the vehicle than a human life. If we can reduce the risk to life in combat situations, we can increase operational speed,” Allik said.
Milrem Robotics said it will continue to support the EDF in mission areas in the future and is currently preparing for possible future deployments as early as the end of 2020.
The Estonian Defence Forces said the THeMIS can be fitted with 7.62 mm and 12.7 mm machineguns, a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher and Javelin anti-tank missiles.
The vehicle has a payload of 1 200 kg, maximum speed of 25 km/h and endurance of 10-15 hours.
Milrem Robotics is an Estonian defence solutions provider whose primary focus is the manufacture of unmanned ground vehicles, development of robotic warfare solutions and performing concept of operations and doctrine level warfare analysis.