[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                        April 25, 2008
Training

Robots used to combat enemy explosives

By Tom Michele, The Real McCoy Contributor

      Robots taking the brunt of enemy explosive devices instead of Soldiers being killed or wounded was the focus of recent robotics training at Fort McCoy.

Photo: A Flail robot flails the dirt during a robotics training scenario at Fort McCoy. The robotic lead trainer, Tracy Hedrick (to the right, background), provides guidance to a Soldier about the procedures. (Photo by Tom Michele)
A Flail robot flails the dirt during a robotics training scenario at Fort McCoy. The robotic lead trainer, Tracy Hedrick (to the right, background), provides guidance to a Soldier about the procedures. (Photo by Tom Michele)

      Soldiers training for mobilization to Southcentral Asia are learning about Talon and Flail, two of the robotics systems implemented by the Army, and in-theater operations.

      Talon is a tracked vehicle about a cubic yard in size, easily transportable to and operable on the battlefield.

      Flail is a tracked vehicle that literally "flails" mushroom-shaped chunks of steel on the end of six-inch chains as it churns across a field to destroy antipersonnel mines.

      "Both of these vehicle systems give a Soldier a standoff distance from a suspect object so the Soldier can manipulate the object or emplace an explosive by the suspect object," Tracy Hedrick said from a training site at Fort McCoy.

      Hedrick is a lead trainer-technician with Robotic Systems Joint Project Office out of the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. Hedrick and another trainer are making short tours to Fort McCoy to introduce mobilizing Soldiers to Talon and Flail.

      Hedrick explained the importance of the Talon is reconnaissance and also improvised explosive device identification, and to deliver and place an explosive charge close to a suspect package, then detonate both.

      Instead of the Soldier approaching the suspect item in a vehicle or on foot, Soldiers posture themselves comfortably with a small carrying case, open it, turn on the monitor screen that shows each of the views from four color video cameras, and use a dozen finger controls to maneuver Talon to, around and away from the suspect item. The Soldier can view the item from their remote site, and use a Talon's pinchers to place an explosive by the item or grab onto an item and move the items somewhere else.

Photo: Soldiers work on a Talon robot during classroom training at Fort McCoy. (Photo by Tom Michele)
Soldiers work on a Talon robot during classroom training at Fort McCoy. (Photo by Tom Michele)

      Talon has a multitude of functions, including communications and security. A Talon can be rapidly deployed.

      "It's great technology to save lives," Spc. Ryan Conley said minutes after he spent a half-hour operating a Talon at a Fort McCoy training area. "You don't have to walk up to and search an object. You just use Talon." Conley is from Lexington, Ky., and is a member of Company C, 201st Engineers Battalion, Kentucky Army National Guard. The battalion is preparing for mobilization to support Operation Enduring Freedom.

      Conley was one of Hedrick's students. Each student set up a Talon, then, from the backside of a structure, used only the cameras to drive Talon to a suspect site, analyze the object, place a simulated explosive charge by the suspect object, pick up a nearby tennis ball, drive to another site to place the tennis ball in a cardboard box, then remove a marker flag from a traffic cone and return the flag to the control point.

      Then there is Flail. It does exactly what the noun, and verb, implies.

      "It's designed to beat the ground for antipersonnel mines," Hedrick said. "It really digs into the ground, depending on the type of soil." With its tracked threads, Flail pushes along like a bulldozer, as it has a bulldozer-like blade in front. Forward of the blade is an axle that spins the "flails," four-inch diameter chunks of steel on six-inch chains that pound the ground, destroying antipersonnel mines.

      The vehicle is operated by a Soldier stationed away from the suspect mine area, as TV cameras give the operator a view of the potentially mined area and the action.

      The importance of Flail is explained by Spc. Jonathon Moak, "It helps get rid of mines. That's important because that's what we do. It's important for the U.S. military, our Coalition forces and the local people."

      Moak is a combat engineer with the 927th Engineer Company of the 201st Engineer Battalion of the Kentucky Army National Guard.

      The 927th is from Baton Rouge, La, also Moak's hometown.

      "I already served nine months in Afghanistan, this will be my second tour," Moak said. "I volunteered to support my Guard unit's mission and the country's mission." He is in his sixth year as a National Guard member.

      Maj. Dave Thurston, operations officer with the 2nd Battalion, 411th Regiment, 181st Infantry Brigade that conducts much of the mobilization training at Fort McCoy, said, "The importance of robotics training is to help combat engineers remotely investigate suspicious objects to determine whether or not they are IEDs. Use of a Talon reduces the time a Soldier must wait on the convoy route to investigate suspicious objects."

      Thurston said Soldiers in units that travel convoy routes have a need to have training on robotics equipment, and engineers play a valuable role for route clearance in which convoys travel.

(Michele is a public affairs specialist for Eagle Systems and Services Inc., contractor for CONUS Support Base Services.)

 

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