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.
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
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.
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,
"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