Armed Robots Provide Glimpse of Future Warfare

By Stephen Trentanelli

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Staff Sgt. Santiago Tordillos demos armed Talon robots during live fire testing at Picatinny. Photo by Stephen Trentanelli

Staff Sgt. Santiago Tordillos demos armed Talon robots during live fire testing at Picatinny. Photo by Stephen Trentanelli

Warren, Mich.-The Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center and the Special Operations Command jointly hosted a demonstration of modular payload systems on robotic platforms that was held recently at Avon Park Bombing Range, Fla. The research center's contribution to this demonstration consisted of plug and play modular armament payloads, which include the M202, the 40mm grenade launcher and the Telepresent Rapid Aiming and Pointing system-all of which can be mounted individually on the Talon robot, thus the name "modular."

Five non-commissioned officers from ARDEC's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit participated in the demonstration, which held was to show the operational utility of arming robots and to generate user interest in the concept of armed robots on the battlefield.

The robot platforms demonstrated were the Talon robot developed by Foster-Miller Inc. This robot was a logical choice since it is already in service with joint service Explosive Ordnance Disposal units, and soldiers are experienced with its operation.

Additionally, the Talon robot has an articulating arm that facilitates attaching and aiming weapons. The robots were integrated with one of three armament systems: an M202 Light-Anti-tank Weapon (four 66mm rockets), a 6 barrel 40mm grenade launcher or a small arms weapon mounted on the Tactical Related Applications system produced by Precision Remotes.

The demonstration started with a Talon robot driving over anti-personnel land mines to place an explosive charge on an anti-tank mine. A live fire of all three armament systems engaging targets out to 450 meters in single fire and automatic fire modes followed. Visitors to the demo watched the live fire events and then received detailed briefings on the operation of the systems.

While many people are fearful that armed robots will run amok on the battlefield, this was not an issue for the demonstration. The robots employ a "man in the loop" where the robots are always under the direct control of a soldier. The soldier issues commands to the robot and the small arms weapons through the robot's operator control unit. The soldier also issues commands to the rocket and grenade launchers through a newly developed Remote Firing and Control System. This firing and control system, which was developed by Duke Pro, allows a single soldier to control up to five separate firing systems using a 40 bit encryption security system.

The EOD soldiers learned much about the performance of the system and identified a number of potential improvements to make the system even more lethal.

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From RDECOM Magazine, September, 2003