NATIONAL TRAINING CENTER, Calif., Aug. 12, 2011 -- Imagine a miniature tank, armed not with explosives, but with a claw and a 360-degree rotational camera. It roams into the heart of danger, searching fearlessly for homemade explosives. The robot is used by the U.S. Army for explosive ordnance disposal.
Combat Engineers from the 18th Engineer Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, received robotics training with the robot at the National Training Center Aug. 10.
“To save lives,” said Spc. Dennis Egloria, a combat engineer from 18th EN, 2-3 IN. “That’s the (robot's) mission.”
Robotics training is designed to give Soldiers hands-on experience operating the robot. The robot can identify and destroy improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, 300 meters away from the Soldiers operating it. This technology saves Soldiers from physically having to identify IEDs and keeps Afghan neighborhoods secure.
“We’d rather use the capabilities we have to our advantage than waste a Soldier’s life,” said Spc. Steven Z. Dunn, a combat engineer from 18th EN, 2-3 IN.
Engineers learned how to deploy the robot to scan for telltale signs of IEDS: piles of trash and rocks, and bushes out of place. Maneuvering the robot through a village, the engineers searched along the roadside and in abandoned vehicles for any potential explosive threats.
The robot approached a down a slope leading to the opening of a culvert. Egloria was fast at work on the joysticks, rotating, tilting, and panning the camera in search of anything out of the ordinary.
Underneath some loose brush was a barely-visible artillery shell. Egloria rotated the camera directly onto it and zoomed in. The potential IED showed clearly on the Operator Control Unit’s display screen. Upon confirmation, it is the standard operating procedure for engineers to call in the threat using a 9-line medical evacuation.
“Every robot is tailored to a specific mission,” said Dunn. “The (robot) is an interrogation tool that engineers can use.”
Discovering live bombs before they detonate saves the lives of both International Security Assistance forces and Afghans.
“If we can show [Afghans] that we can keep them safe, we’re going to gain their trust and be able to get more information from them,” said Egloria, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2009.
The cohesion between ISAF and the Afghan community furthers the progress that has been made in Afghanistan. Successful route clearance missions strengthen the commitment to help their citizens protect their nation from anti-Afghan forces.
“We need to use every tool we have to accomplish the mission,” said Dunn.
While the robot is currently the sharpest tool in the shed when working with IEDs, it does have limitations. The robot’s batteries last four hours, while route clearance missions can last up to 12.
This limitation though has not stopped Egloria, Dunn, and his fellow engineers from deploying the robot in Iraq and Afghanistan to counter the threat of IEDs and safely remove them.