ORLANDO, FL (Talon News) — The United States military recently unveiled its latest weapon for use in Iraq at the recent 24th Army Science Conference in Orlando, Florida. It may seem like something out of a science fiction movie, but the armed/weaponized Talon robot, dubbed Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System (SWORDS), is very real, and will soon be battle tested in Iraq.
The concept for the mechanical soldier is really the next logical step for the Talon robot — a robot developed by Massachusetts engineering firm Foster-Miller, Inc. The Talon first saw service in Bosnia in 2000 and has been used in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The Talon assists in the detection and removal of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Staff Sgt. Sandiago Tordillos, with the Explosive Ordnance Disposal directorate of the Army’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Pictanny Arsenal, New Jersey, says that the SWORDS robotic soldier is not a new invention. Rather, he says, “[I]t’s just bringing together existing systems.”
The SWORDS comes at a time when the Bush administration has drawn heavy criticism for the number of troops who have been killed in Iraq.
However, the benefit of not having a soldier killed in combat is only one of the many features that SWORDS brings to the table. Other advantages include the fact that the robots do not need sleep, food, or water. They don’t require training; they will not be susceptible to battle fatigue; and they can be warehoused between wars.
According to Bob Quinn, the project’s lead integrator, the four existing SWORDS systems have been built at a cost of roughly $230,000 each. He hopes that, as production increases, the per-unit-cost will drop to between $150,000 and $180,000.
Initially, the SWORDS units will be equipped with either the M249, which can fire 750 5.56mm rounds per minute, or with the M240, which fires 7.62mm rounds at a rate of 700-1,000 rounds per minute.
In an article at DefenseReview.com, Arnis Mangolds, vice president of Foster-Miller, said that the SWORDS units can be outfitted with “a Barrett M82 A1 or M107 .50 cal (BMG) anti-material rifle, six 40mm grenades, or an M202 A1 Flame Assault Shoulder Weapon (FLASH) multi-shot rocket launcher which carries four 66mm rockets.”
Defense Review further speculates that SWORDS could also be equipped with “various light anti-tank weapons.” It cites the M136 AT4 anti-armor weapon and the M141 Bunker Defeat Munition (BDM) as examples.
The SWORDS units stand about three feet tall and weigh roughly 180 pounds, depending on the weapons with which it is equipped. To maneuver, the robots have tank-style tracks, enabling them to negotiate piles of rock, barbed wire and other rough terrain.
According to the Army News Service Web site http://www4.army.mil/ocpa/news, SWORDS can run off of AC power, lithium batteries or Singars rechargeable batteries.
The systems are operated by soldiers who can be thousands of feet away. For urban combat situations, that distance decreases somewhat. The operating soldier can see what the robot “sees,” because the SWORDS systems are equipped with four cameras, night vision and zoom lenses.
In comparing the shooting accuracy of SWORDS to that of the average soldier, Bob Quinn, general manager of Talon robots for Foster-Miller, Inc., says that a soldier could typically hit a watermelon at 300 meters. At that same distance, Quinn says, the SWORDS system could “hit a target the size of a nickel.”
The new “robo-soldiers,” 18 strong initially, will be assigned to the U.S. Army’s Stryker battalion, and should be on the ground in Iraq by late March or early April.