The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization will send expendable robots to Afghanistan next year that can move ahead of dismounted troops and destroy hidden bombs.
HDT Robotics of Fredericksburg, Va., responded to a JIEDDO announcement that was searching for ways to counter pressure-plate explosives in Afghanistan. The company responded with a mini-flail that will churn the soil and detonate IEDs before troops step on them.
The nature of the conflict and the rugged terrain has forced soldiers and marines to go on more foot patrols. Improvised explosive devices — as they were in Iraq — remain the number-one killer of U.S. forces. The Taliban has resorted to using rudimentary but deadly homemade mines made from hard-to-detect materials such as wood. The nation is also littered with leftover mines from past conflicts.
The tele-operated Protector Mini-Flail weighs about 1,000 pounds but can be broken down into four pieces so it can be hauled in the back of a Humvee or taken apart in the field and carried over difficult obstacles, said Tom Van Doren, HDT chief operating officer.
Flails attached in front of armored anti-mine vehicles have been around for several decades. The rotating chains in front of the robot are basically the same technology “but it’s much much smaller,” he said.
“It’s designed to survive an anti-personnel mine, but anything bigger than that, you’re going to trash the vehicle,” he said. It can run for 30 hours on JP-8 fuel and is about 36 inches wide, he said.
JIEDDO has ordered 10 robots that it will test at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., in early 2012. It will send them to Afghanistan shortly thereafter, Van Doren said.
The price point is one of the most important features since a robot may be destroyed if it sets off a large anti-tank mine. Each unit will cost about $70,000. That is less than other military ground robots, he noted.