The first gun-toting robotic combat soldiers set to be deployed
By Mike Hanlon
January 27, 2006
January 28, 2006 Meet the world’s first robotic combat soldier – also known as the Special Weapons Observation Remote Direct-Action System (SWORDS). The diminutive remote-controlled US$230,000 SWORDS machine shares the same base as the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Talon robots which have been deployed in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Unlike many of it’s flying robotic (UAV) brethren, the weaponised Talon is not autonomous, being under the direct control of a soldier watching from up to a mile away through an array of cameras which can include both night and thermal vision. SWORDS is completely silent, can keep pace with a running soldier (5mph), climb stairs, right itself, negotiate rock piles, overcome concertina wire, and plow through sand, snow and surf. Most importantly, it can shoot with astounding accuracy and thanks to its universal weapon-mounting device, can carry and fire your choice of an M-16, M-2, M-240 or M-249 machine gun, or the M-202A1 with a 66mm rocket launcher. SWORDS will be deployed to Iraq and see combat for the first time in the next few weeks, beginning a new era of ground warfare.
Being based on the EOD Talon has its advantages. The EOD robots have the dangerous job of inspecting and defusing Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Iraq where there are more than 250 TALON robots deployed and another 1200 on order.
Designed and manufactured by Foster-Miller, the Talon has been deployed in more than 20,000 missions in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq over the last five years, during which time it has been found to be incredibly durable, surviving explosions that would certainly have been lethal to a human with little or no damage. Robots which are blast-damaged are often able to be repaired with a few part swaps and quickly returned to duty. One was recently blown off the roof of a Humvee on which it was being trasnported while the Humvee was crossing a bridge over a river. The Talon was blown off the roof, off the bridge and into the river below. To retrieve the unit from the depths of the river, soldiers used its operator control unit to drive the robot back out of the river and up onto the bank.
The system uses AC power, lithium batteries or SINCGARS rechargeable batteries. The control box weighs about 30 pounds, and has a daylight-viewable screen and two joysticks that control the robot platform and the weapon. The soldier can issues commands to the SWORDS weapons through a specially-developed Remote Firing and Control System. This firing and control system allows a single soldier to control up to five separate firing systems using a 40 bit encryption security system.
The armed robot has been being field tested since late 2003 and is likely to be deployed to Iraq and see action for the first time in the next few months. The U.S. Army has ordered 18 to deploy in Iraq initially, though further orders are expected and when volume production commences, the cost per unit will drop to between US$150,000 to US$180,000 – a lot of money, but an amount of money that will certainly save many human lives due to the soldiers they replace who can now perform the most dangerous missions with a much higher degree of safety.
Though the soldier will never be fully replaced on the battlefield, the robot is seen as playing an ever increasing role in the future and in the not-too-distant future, US-controlled robots can be expected to outnumber United States soldiers in the most forward-deployed and dangerous situations. A new era is about to begin.
Foster-Miller builds a range of Talon robots which assist and replace humans in dangerous jobs and do jobs that humans simply cannot do. The full range is covered in this PDF brochure, and brochures for particular robotic configurations can be downloaded here for the Weaponized TALON and Hazard Sensing TALON.