Estonian soldiers alongside their Milrem Robotics’ THeMIS unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) serving with the French-led Operation Barkhane mission has completed their first Malian deployment.
In April, last year, more than a hundred Estonia forces deployed to Mali, with the vanguard from the 32nd Platoon (ESTPLA-32) for a period of five months, they were tasked to provide security of the French base in Gao and its vicinity. ESTPLA-32 took with them their THeMIS UGV for the Malian deployment.
The THeMIS (Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry System) 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 utilized the vehicle during their deployments.
Milrem Robotics on 5 May said the deployment proved the effectiveness and reliability of the vehicle.
“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.