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Chain-whipping Robot's a Mine-Blower in Afghanistan

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 14, 2002 – The hard case, dressed in olive drab, sat sullenly on the floor. The nickname, "mini," seems a misnomer; there are stories about chains being whipped about to explosive effect.

The dangerous job of blowing up anti-personnel land mines is the remote-controlled mini flail's specialty. Co- developed by the Army and Marine Corps, the robot looks somewhat like a scaled-down, driverless Zamboni machine. For military and humanitarian reasons, the robot has cleared mines for years in Bosnia and Kosovo. Now, it's a veteran of Afghanistan.

The diesel-powered machine is sheathed in Kevlar-type armor and uses a front-mounted, rotating drum that has lengths of heavy chain attached. The chains flail the ground ahead and the impacts blow up buried land mines, said Ed Price, a robotic analyst working for the Unmanned Ground Vehicles/Systems Joint Project Office at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.

Price and co-worker Marylou Cole, a marketing specialist, showcased the mini flail at the Public Service Recognition Week exhibition May 9 through 12 on the National Mall in Washington.

The U.S. military participated in humanitarian land mine removal missions in Kuwait after the Gulf War, Price noted, when that country was littered with ordnance left behind by departed Iraqi forces.

First fielded in Kuwait in 1996, the mini flail was subsequently deployed to Bosnia and Kosovo, Price said.

"Now, we have them in Afghanistan," he noted, "both for humanitarian (missions) and war operations."

The mini flail's four rubber-tired wheels can be sheathed inside a detachable metal track that helps the 2,600-pound device to cross uneven ground, Price said.

The device's drum, he noted, can be counter-rotated to cause the chains to throw or sweep away land mines.

Price said operators -- usually combat engineers -- direct the mini flail via remote control from 300 meters away. This, he noted, takes "the soldier out of harm's way" during mine-clearing operations.

He said the machines would be still be challenged by more powerful land mines -- such as anti-tank mines -- available in military inventories.

"You can't replace a soldier, but you can replace a vehicle," Cole said, adding that the mini flail protects both service members and civilians in both war and other- than-war operations.

"To know that we're helping to keep people safe -- you just can't put a price on that," she added.

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Click photo for screen-resolution image-- Marylou Cole and Ed Price showcase the Army-Marine Corps remote-controlled mini flail anti- personnel mine clearing device May 9 at their Public Service Recognition Week exhibition on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Heavy chains attached to a rotating drum behind Cole whip the ground and detonate hidden mines. The robot device is being used in Afghanistan. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore.   
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