Little Radar-Toting Robotic Gun Vehicle Aims To Protect Squads From Drones

A trio of international defense contractors have teamed up to offer a new lower-tier counter-drone system that consists of a turreted infantry rifle with a computerized “smart sight,” a small radar array, and a six-wheeled uncrewed ground vehicle. The resulting combination could potentially be employed against other threats beyond drones and would also offer units on the ground valuable surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

Smart Shooter, headquartered in Israel, collaborated with Leonardo DRS, the U.S.-based subsidiary of Italy’s Leonardo, and American firm HDT Global to develop this system, seen in the picture at the top of this story. It is set to make its public debut at the Association of the U.S. Army’s main annual conference that opens in Washington, D.C. next week.

The weapon component of the system comes from Smart Shooter. It consists of the company’s Smash Hopper remote-controlled turret armed with a standard infantry rifle equipped with a Smash 2000-series computerized optic.

The optic, which Smart Shooter says can be readily installed on a variety of rifles using standardized accessory rails, is the key component. It is a software-driven system that includes a small video camera and a laser rangefinder, and can automatically detect potential targets and be ‘locked on’ to them. Once a target has been locked in, the optic calculates the optimal point of aim. The user then aims the rifle and fires.

The Smash Hopper turret has the same general capabilities, but instead of the operator holding the rifle with the optic, they aim the weapon using a tablet-style controller.

Smart Shooter has long presented the capabilities offered by its Smash 2000-series optics as being particularly well-suited to the lower-end counter-drone role given their ability to lock on and provide firing solutions for even small moving targets. The ‘smart sight’ was originally developed to help offer individual shooters extreme accuracy and generally improve their effectiveness, even when fatigued.

The new counter-drone system adds an RPS-42 radar array from Leonardo DRS, part of the company’s Multi-Mission Hemispheric Radar (MHS) family, to the mix. This is a compact S-band pulse doppler radar that uses active electronically scanned (AESA) antennas. It has a stated maximum detection range of up to 30 kilometers (just over 18 and a half miles), though this is of course dependent on the size and nature of the target and other factors.

It is not immediately clear how directly the Smash Hopper turret might be tied to the radar, if at all. Even if they are separate, the radar would still offer important additional advanced warning of potential threats, as well as more specific data about where they are coming from, which could be used to manually cue the weapon system component. Still, automatic cueing is likely and highly preferable.

Lastly, there is the vehicle on which all of this is mounted, the six-wheeled Hunter WOLF (Wheeled Offload Logistics Follower) from HDT Global. The 3,600-pound uncrewed ground vehicle has a maximum payload capacity of 2,200 pounds and a hybrid-electric propulsion system that gives it a range of up to 200 miles on a single tank of JP-8 jet fuel or diesel. It is currently offered as a semi-autonomous platform that can be manually operated or in a follow-the-leader mode where it automatically trails behind whoever is carrying the hand-held controller.

Hunter WOLF also has an onboard generator specifically so that it can run remote weapon stations and sensors like the Smash Hopper and RPS-42. This uncrewed ground vehicle has been shown equipped with other armament options in the past. It can even provide this power while operating in a “silent” mode, which can help reduce the chance of it being detected.

A Hunter WOLF on display with a different remotely operated weapon station armed with a .50 caliber heavy machine gun. Joseph Trevithick

The complete uncrewed system looks like it offers an intriguing mix of capabilities that could offer an on-the-go counter-drone capability with an active early warning capability. It could also be used in a mode with its radar array switched off, which would reduce its electromagnetic signature and make it harder for enemy forces to detect it, but still be able to engage visually-observed threats. A single system could accompany smaller units while groups of them, possibly networked together, could be attached to larger formations, as well.

Altogether, the Hunter WOLF-based system looks particularly well equipped to help tackle lower-tier drone threats, including smaller weaponized commercial quad and hexacopter types. Drones of this type have posed a major threat to even large nation-state militaries for years now. This is a reality that has only been further underscored by their heavy use on both sides in the current conflict in Ukraine. In addition, they present a very low barrier to entry and have been seen in use by non-state actors like terrorist groups and organized criminal organizations.

Modern armed forces will need to ensure that even relatively small ground units have the ability to adequately defend themselves against these threats going forward. The U.S. Army has already been acquiring Smash 2000-series optics for use on standard infantry rifles in the counter-drone role, including by special operations forces, for years now.

Earlier this week, Smart Shooter announced that the Army had awarded it another contract for an unspecified number of Smash 2000Ls. This is on top of an order the service placed last year. The Smash 2000L is an improved lightweight version of the original Smash 2000 that is also now known as the Smash 3000.

A promotional image showing an individual holding an M4-style carbine equipped with a Smash 2000L/Smash 3000 optic. Smart Shooter

Other branches of the U.S. military have also been evaluating Smart Shooter’s product line. The company has also developed a new computerized optic, called the Individual Weapon Overmatch Optic (IWOO), specifically in response to U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) requirements.

In addition, the Hunter WOLF-mounted system could be useful well beyond the counter-drone role, as well. Smart Shooter says that the Smash 2000-series optics inherently have a limited secondary surveillance capability because of their built-in camera and automated targeting functionality. Coupled with the RPS-42 radar array, the uncrewed ground vehicle could just act as a valuable additional sensor node for even relatively small ground units. It could also be deployed forward of those forces to scout ahead for threats and other potential hazards, helping to reduce risks for friendly personnel.

Just like any other remote weapon station, the Smash Hopper turret should still be usable against suitable ground targets, as well. Smart Shooter has also long touted the Smash 2000-series optics’ ability to help friendly forces quickly identify their opponents and effectively neutralize them, even in complex environments like dense urban areas. The U.S. military notably sees large sprawling cities as very likely locations for heavy fighting in future conflicts. The Hunter WOLF-based system could be sent ahead into such areas ahead to spot and potentially engage threats on the ground while its operators remain in cover or otherwise out of harm’s way.

The video below from Smart Shooter shows a pickup truck equipped with a Smash Hopper turret being used against ground targets.

This all comes as the armed forces of many countries, including the U.S. military, are actively looking to integrate uncrewed ground combat vehicles configured to perform a host of different missions into their forces at various levels. The U.S. Marine Corps has even evaluated the Hunter WOLF specifically as a drone vehicle to help carry cargo and personnel, including wounded individuals. The Army has been testing similarly sized uncrewed ground vehicles for use in the same kinds of roles. The service is also pursuing an adjacent plan to acquire multiple tiers of what it is currently calling Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCV), including various armed types intended for more direct combat use.

It remains to be seen whether or not the U.S. military or other international customers will ultimately express interest specifically in the new uncrewed counter-drone system from Smart Shooter, Leonardo DRS, and HDT Global. At the same time, modern militaries have a clear need for more ways to deal with the ever-growing threat posed by aerial drones and uncrewed platforms look set to be increasingly more commonplace in general going forward.

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Joseph Trevithick

Deputy Editor

Joseph has been a member of The War Zone team since early 2017. Prior to that, he was an Associate Editor at War Is Boring, and his byline has appeared in other publications, including Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defense Journal, Reuters, We Are the Mighty, and Task & Purpose.