FLIR Systems Inc. has received an order for 250 Centaur Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) from the US Armed Forces. The $32 million order is the latest in a line of Centaur orders issued by the US Armed Forces since the beginning of the year. 2020’s orders currently make up a backlog whose cumulative value stands at $97 million, representing a total of 750 individual units. Today’s addition of a further 250 units brings the backlog up to 1,000 units, leaving an end of year cost to the US Armed Forces, of $129 million. The US Armed Forces are currently looking to procure more Centaur vehicles, in line with 2017’s $150 million supply contract signed between the US and FLIR. The supply contract came on the back of the selection of the Centaur as the US’ new Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD) system, as part of the Man Transportable Robotic System Increment II programme (MTRS Inc II). The FLIR Centaur is expected to act as a common robotic system fielded to all elements of the US military. The introduction of the Centaur as the only hazardous materials UGV is hoped to enable better co-operation between the Air Force, Army and Navy. The larger 2017 supply contract of which today’s announcement is but a part, foresees the last delivery governed by the contract being made in Q1 of 2021.
FLIR Systems Inc, the private sector partner chosen to deliver the US Armed Forces’ new EOD robot, is a domestic firm based in Wilsonville, Oregon. The company’s roots lay in the early development of high performance low-cost IR imaging systems in the late 1970s. The company is currently 3,000 strong and focuses on maintaining its ability to be a market leader in the thermal imaging market. The production of the Centaur is a step away from the company’s traditional focus and part of its market diversification strategy. The FLIR Centaur is designed as a remotely operated stand-off UGV manufactured with a modular design driven by open architecture software. The stand-off designation refers to the platform’s ability to attack its target i.e. an Improved Explosive Device (IED), Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) or land mine, without the target’s explosive yield impacting the disposal agent. The Centaur’s modular design allows the unmanned system to be fitted for different objectives and requirements, allowing it to swap in and out diverse payloads depending on the designated mission. The open architecture software which pilots the vehicle upon its activation by a remote operator, is easy to modify in collaboration with its changeable hardware providing excellent multi-use optimization.
The technical specifications for the FLIR Centaur are designed to fit in with the requirements of the aforementioned MTRS Inc. II programme. The programme, first issued in mid-Q3 2015, required a US Interoperability Profile (IOP) compliant vehicle designed to put into practice lessons learned in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. The Centaur can be controlled through the dual combination of a remote control connected to a durable laptop to communicate with the vehicle. The degree of control is dependant depending on the distance of the operator, with LOS operation allowing a range of 800m and non-LOS operation, 150m. The UGV weighs 74.3kg, is capable of a max speed of 2.5mph, an endurance of 8 hours and a carry weight of 14.5kg. The UGV’s weight carry capability is reduced at the arms maximum extension coming down from 14.5kg to 6.8kg. The vehicle’s arms do not just provide impressive strength but allow for a surprising amount of flexibility, with a 360 degrees capable wrist joint. The arms are also capable of exercising themselves in five degrees of freedom with an extension limit of 1.91m. The Centaur is also highly mobile able to easily surmount objects up to 6.0 inches in height in addition to being able to climb stairs up to an incline of 43 degrees. The platform is also capable of handling sloped services of up to 30 degrees with ease.
The acquisition of the FLIR Centaur will go towards the advancement of both FLIR Systems Inc. and the US Armed Forces’ potent robotics arm. FLIR Systems Inc. for its part will be able to advance its nascent reputation for delivering robotics systems, aiding their diversification into robotics. The US military will benefit outside of its pre-stated objectives of procuring a single EOD solution to enhance compatibility across the armed forces. The adoption of the Centaur is one more step further along the road to an unmanned reduced risk force for the future. The American ambition to vastly increase it’s unmanned wing is advancing with impressive alacrity, seeing in recent years an increasing focus on autonomous platforms, most notably in the US Navy. The completion of the MTRS Inc II with next years Centaur deliveries is in line with this trend and will see the US’s aging unmanned EOD fleet replaced with a cutting edge alternative. The final acquisition of the Centaur UGV fleet will push the unmanned procurement target even further, whilst also increasing America’s reputation for embracing innovative military technology.