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02-12-09, 12:22 PM #1
Top Military Tech for Unconventional Warfare: Robots, ATVs and Gun Upgrades from the
Top Military Tech for Unconventional Warfare: Robots, ATVs and Gun Upgrades from the Special Forces Symposium
By Joe Pappalardo
: February 11, 2009
Defense conferences are a lot like the Oscars—what you see outside is often more interesting than the event itself. The 20th annual Special Forces/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium, held this week in Washington, D.C., includes an exhibition hall, outside an auditorium where speakers discussed the future direction of the defense industry. The exhibits display a notable collection of weapons, robots, UAVs and gear that vendors from around the world hope will become the next must-have for the U.S. military. Here are a few of our favorites.
Marathon Robotics' Rover: Segway Target Practice
Usually, Segway vehicles in Washington, D.C., are used only by tourists—and the occasional D.C. Metro police officer—who zip around the National Mall. The Australian company Marathon Robotics has another use for two-wheeled novelties: Affixing them with dummy human torsos and software packages and using the anthropomorphized robots during live-fire target practice for snipers. The dummies on wheels have sensors that use noise to determine a head or body shot, and they will fold back if the shooter registers a kill.
The Segway is outfitted with GPS and laser navigation tools, and its base is armored to withstand errant shots. "When the shooter opens fire, the first one to get hit sends a signal to the others so his buddies will scatter," says Alexei Makarenko, director of the firm. The Australian military started using the system last year, and Marathon is directing its marketing to the United States.
Phoenix International's Upgraded Prowler: The King of All-Terrain Vehicles
The last time PM encountered the Prowler, an all-terrain vehicle modified for use by the military, was in 2005 when we were passengers on a test drive. The essence of the machine remains the same—an all-wheel-drive, digital fuel-injected vehicle that can tear through terrain at 50 mph—but this king of rugged ATVs has some new tricks.
The two-seat Prowler's drive chain, electrical system and engine are based directly off commercial ATVs, which are becoming more powerful. California's Phoenix International started using Kawasaki's Teryx ATV last year as the base of the Prowler, saying that the engine is 30 percent more powerful than its predecessor, the Yamaha Rhino. It comes with accessories like heavy mounts for antitank or antipersonnel weapons, a 3000-pound wireless remote-control winch and a stretcher for search-and-rescue missions. A point of manufacturer pride is found in the Chromalloy roll cage and NASCAR-rated seat restraint—since its initial deployment in 2002, no vehicle-related injuries have been reported by users. The biggest buyers so far: the United Arab Emirates. The U.S. Army has also bought some, using limited discretionary funds—not as a consolidated purchase.
Remote-Operated Weapons Stations Get an Upgrade: Shoot from Safety
Common Remotely Operated Weapons Stations, which allow gunners to fire while seated safely inside a vehicle, are not new. But refinement in the design and software makes the second generation of CROWS, such as the Protector from the Norwegian company Kongsberg, worth a closer look. For starters, the system shoots straighter, courtesy of a design that allows the gun and the camera to aim at different things. As the shooter keeps the joystick reticule on target, software uses laser rangefinder data to compensate for the distance.
This "detached line of sight" system also works for 40 mm grenade launchers, which lob explosives in arcs. All a gunner has to do is line up the target on screen and wait for the explosion. Other features include better armor to protect the exposed gun, a tracker that automatically swivels the gun or camera to match a target, and an improved stabilizing system that keeps the Protector's aim straight even when the vehicle is bouncing or is sitting at an angle. Last year more than 7000 units were ordered by nations including the U.S., Australia, England, Ireland and Portugal. A version designed to work on boats has not yet caught on, however.
Lockheed's Ox: A Military Mule Turned Clydesdale
No defense exhibition would be complete without an attention-grabbing Lockheed Martin display. At the 2009's SO/LIC, it was a six-wheeled beast, laden with soldier's backpacks and display-safe weapons, decorated with a sign reading, "IT IS A ROBOT." At 4000 pounds, the Ox makes Boston Dynamic's BigDog look like a puppy. The Pentagon is smitten with the idea of teaming robots with soldiers, on the squad level, having the mechanical mules carry the heavy loads over hard terrain. The Ox, officially known as the Squad Mission Support System, is programmed to be just smart enough to follow soldiers on their own, like a loyal hunting dog. SMSS's size allows it to travel 50 cross-country miles, span 0.7-meter gaps (a bit more than 2 ft) and 22-in. steps.
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