In a live demonstration last month, the U.S. Army Armament Research Development
and Engineering Center tested the performance of an armed robot, called Talon.
Explosive ordnance disposal experts at the New Jersey facility operated the
robot with a remotely-aimed weapons mount and a new fire control system.
The Talon has attracted the attention of several potential users looking to
supplement sensor payloads with lethal weapons. “It’s small. It’s
quiet, and it goes where people don’t want to be,” explained EOD
Sgt. 1st Class David Platt.
The Talon robot, made by Foster-Miller Inc. in Waltham, Mass., is authorized
for EOD by all four U.S. armed services and has been employed successfully in
Bosnia, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The tracked robot was one of four types used
to search the World Trade Center rubble in 2001. It carries a 300-pound payload
of sensors, tools or weapons, said Foster-Miller vice president Arnis Mangolds.
The company is now integrating the Talon robot and various armament systems
under a Small Business Innovative Research contract. Electrical and electromagnetic
testing now underway will make the Talon fully safety-certified to fire weapons
Though Foster-Miller prototyped mortars, grenade dispensers and other weapons
for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the late 1990s, early government
interest in armed robots faded. Of the approximately 60 Talons in the Army today,
nearly all are used for explosive ordnance disposal.
However, a high-recoil arm tested with an EOD shotgun at Picatinny inspired
technicians in the ARDEC Explosive Ordnance Division to conduct a new armed
robot demonstration last summer. According to armed robot system manager Stephen
Trentanelli, “this program came about because these NCOs were experimenting
with equipment they had on hand to satisfy future requirements.”
The follow-on demonstration last month was designed to show the capabilities
of lethal robot payloads. It also will help provide a database for unmanned
ground vehicles under the Future Combat System program.
In the preliminary trials, the radio-controlled robot accurately fired 12 Flame-
(incendiary) and 16 HEAT- (High Explosive Anti-Tank) LAW (Light Anti-tank Weapon)
rockets from a four-round M202 launcher.
The robot weighed 126 pounds, including 51 pounds for the rockets. New lithium
batteries in the follow-on demonstration weighed 20 pounds less than the original
lead-acid batteries. The new power supply will also extend robot running time
from two or three hours with lead-acid cells to 10 to 12 hours, depending on
In early trials, the M202 four-round rocket launcher was mounted on the 53-inch
long robot arm. “Just bolting it on the vehicle isn’t good enough,”
noted Mangolds. “You want to aim it in pitch and yaw”. Using the
elevating arm nevertheless required the original armed robot to turn to the
The follow-on demonstration included the TRAP (telepresent rapid aiming platform)
gunnery system made by Precision Remotes Inc. of Port Richmond, Calif., and
a new fire control system by Duke Pro, Inc. in Atlanta.
“The TRAP replaces the arm and has pan and tilt capability,” said
Mangolds. “It’s a little bit more sophisticated, a little more fine-tuned
than the arm.”
The quick-change modular system will accommodate a four-round M202 rocket launcher,
six-round 40 mm grenade launcher, M2 .50 caliber machine gun, M240B 7.62 mm
machine gun, M249 squad automatic weapon, or M16 assault rifle. The robot
manufacturer is also working on modifications that will point if not shoot
weapons on the move. As an additional safety feature and an aid in coordinated
attacks, controlled pointing will keep weapons directed at the enemy no matter
what path the robot takes.
The Talon operates up to 1,800 m from its operator control unit with a radio
frequency link or at distances of 10 km or more using fine optical fibers. The
robot has four cameras. In the initial trials, the “elbow” camera
on the articulated arm provided the sighting field of view seen on the 4-inch
display of the OCU.
The follow-on demonstration used the standard vehicle cameras to aim weapons.
Though the Picatinny team has considered thermal imagers and image intensifiers,
night targeting sensors are not required for the proof-of concept effort. The
robot manufacturer is nevertheless working on a new camera adapter to see around
the bulk of an elevated six-tube grenade launcher.
The original fire control fired four rockets in a leisurely four seconds. The
more sophisticated rocket interface now in place makes it possible to ripple-fire
rockets in rapid succession or select individual rounds from a mix of HEAT and
Flame LAW rockets. The new control system enables one operator to ripple-fire
weapons on one to five platforms simultaneously. “It gives a single operator
a lot more capability in terms of command and control of his remote assets,”
said designer John Nodine.
Duke Pro is an electronic engineering firm specializing in high explosive detonation
equipment. The new package includes a remote firing and control system, an antenna
control unit, and a weapons interface platform. Mounted on the Talon operator
control unit, the RAFCS is about the size of two cigarette packs and uses a
full duplex command and control radio link independent of the Talon OCU. Arm
and fire switches on the RFACS give feedback on the weapon status.
The antenna control unit on the robot receives and decodes the RF firing signal
and relays it to the weapons interface platform receiver. With 256-bit signal
encryption, the new fire control maintains greater security than the 6-bit encrypted
system used in initial trials.
Army EOD operators consider the Talon with its ruggedized OCU the easiest to
control of the current robots. “A laptop doesn’t work on the back
of a Hummer,” said Platt.
Potential future payloads include the Javelin anti-tank missile, a 0.50 caliber
sniper rifle, and various mine detectors and electronic countermeasures.