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Army's Veteran Bomb-Disposal Robot Now 'Packs Heat'

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2006 – A modified version of an Army robot that's used to thwart roadside bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq now packs a punch of its own.

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Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Mero (right) describes the capabilities of the SWORDS (Special Weapons Observation Remote Direct-Action System) robot to Washington Auto Show attendee Garth Renn Jan. 24. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The 3-foot-tall robot, known by the acronym SWORDS (Special Weapons Observation Remote Direct-Action System), can be seen at the Washington Auto Show at the Washington Convention Center here. The show started today and runs through Jan. 29. The robot is part of an Army exhibit.

The remote-controlled machine at the auto show is fitted with an M-249 machine gun and can travel up to 5 mph on its two tank-like tracks, said Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Mero, an explosive ordnance disposal noncommissioned officer who has served in Iraq.

The gun-toting machine is derived from the battery-powered Talon robot, which has provided stalwart service alongside U.S. bomb-disposal squads in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mero said.

"I've used the Talon in Iraq," Mero said, noting the machines are operated via remote control from up to half -a mile away. "You usually use an EOD robot whenever there's an IED based along the side of the road."

The video camera-equipped Talon is used to scout an area in case terrorists decide to detonate the bomb to kill or injure U.S. servicemembers, he said. "It's better than getting a soldier blown up," Mero said. Blast-damaged robots can often be repaired and quickly returned to duty, he said.

Terrorists in Iraq likely will soon confront robots that can fight back, said Mero, who works for the U.S. Army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.

Armed robots like the one at the auto show are being field tested now. Pending successful testing they'll likely be deployed to Iraq sometime this year, he said.

The weapons on the SWORDS robot are fitted onto a universal mounting device, said Asad Khan, a project engineer at ARDEC who accompanied Meros to the auto show. "Right now, what you're seeing is the M-249 machine gun (version)," Khan said. "But, we can (also) use rockets, 40 mm grenade launchers, and the M-240 machine gun, as well as the M-16 rifle."

Weaponized robots equipped with night-vision and other gear could be employed for reconnaissance and other duties, Mero said, noting the SWORDS machine can be rapidly spun around in a complete circle.

Terrorists will likely think twice before engaging machine-gun-packing robots, Mero predicted. "You're not going to try to sneak up on it," Mero said, "and if you shoot at it, it's going to know right where you are."

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Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center

Click photo for screen-resolution imageAsad Khan, a project engineer with the Army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal, Picatinny, N.J., demonstrates the remote control unit for the SWORDS (Special Weapons Observation Remote Direct-Action System) robot at the Washington Auto Show Jan. 24. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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