Special Operations: Segway Goes Commando

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September 12, 2018: In 2017 U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) received several EZ RAIDER HD lightweight (95 kg/209 pounds) electric powered ATVs (all-terrain vehicles), These have a range of 80 kilometers and ability to carry 168 kg (370 pounds). What makes EZ RAIDER work is heavy use of computer controlled components. This is nothing new, the EZ RAIDER design owes a lot to the two Segway PT, a battery powered two (side by side) wheel “Personal Transporter” that hit the market in 2001. The second generation Segway x2, an off-road model, was introduced in 2006.

Think of EZ RAIDER as a four-wheeled all-terrain version of the original Segway concept. Each of the four wheels operates separately for horizontal and vertical movement. The operator stands half a meter (20 inches) off the ground giving EZ RAIDER enough clearance to handle most rough terrain and move at speeds of up to 30 kilometers an hour (depending on the terrain). An EZ RAIDER can transport two lightly equipped troops with several EZ RAIDERs doing that while one of them has a two wheeled self-propelled trailer version of EZ RAIDER (capacity 250 kg/550 pounds) hauling additional gear. When not in use EZ RAIDER folds up to a compact 680mm (27 inch) wide package.

The Israeli made EZ RAIDER also contains a GPS based navigation system that makes use of the 3-D terrain models which are often created before these missions for planning. Since the late 1990s, this rapid 3-D terrain model tech has been heavily used, getting data from sensors carried by aircraft or UAVs. These days most special operations troops employ this for detailed information on what kind of terrain they will have to move over. The EZ RAIDER manufacturer takes this one step farther and creates 3-D models based on what the EZ RAIDER is capable of. These suggested routes have proved very reliable. For Special Operations troops EZ RAIDER enables a raiding party to be landed by helicopter far enough from the target to avoid being heard or seen. Then, using their EZ RAIDERs, the troops can silently approach the target, carry out the raid and travel on their EZ RAIDERs for pickup by helicopter.

The Israelis have been using EZ RAIDER for stealthy border patrol, to catch infiltrators who believe they have not been spotted (until it is too late). EZ RAIDER can also be used for outer security at high value facilities. SOCOM will only say that it has purchased several EZ RAIDERs for field testing and is so far satisfied with their performance. While it is true that something like EZ RAIDER is a specialized item, even for SOCOM, that’s why SOCOM can buy whatever they think they can use to accomplish missions. SOCOM evaluates and even field tests a lot of new stuff and has a record of being able to weed out the useless stuff and putting some odd (at the time) new gear to work where it proves critical in the success of one or more missions. While some of this specialized gear never gets farther than the relatively small special operations market, and a lot of these odd ducks become mainstream once a lot of imaginative users gain regular access and create new applications.

The U.S. Department of Defense has been buying ATVs (as well as motorcycles) for American troops operating in areas like Afghanistan since 2004. SOCOM was initially the main user but soon many non-SOCOM infantry came to depend on these lightweight vehicles. Regular army units got the ATVs mostly for hauling gear around remote outposts. ATVs could be flown in slung under a helicopter. The ATVs were often used to collect airdropped supplies that, because of the often unpredictable winds, fell far from the base. The ATVs have been so popular that many troops have bought them when they get back home and use them for cross-country trips (for camping, hunting, or just sightseeing). The army has bought some of these ATVs for use by troops just returned from Iraq or Afghanistan. It's the kind of high-excitement recreation that has been found to help the troops decompress after returning from a combat tour. One type of ATV that SOCOM sought, a lightweight silent vehicle for the final approach (the last 20 kilometers) to the target of a raid, had long seemed impossible to find.

SOCOM, however, had the money and special needs to continually find, or develop, new types of non-standard vehicles. Thus in 2014 SOCOM began testing SilentHawk a hybrid-electric motorcycle for troops to use in places like Afghanistan and Iraq where roads may be risky because of roadside bombs and mines. These tests went well, but not to the complete satisfaction of the commandos. SOCOM kept trying and found another “stealthy” (small and very quiet) motorcycle called Nightmare that is similar to SilentHawk. SOCOM has used plenty of motorcycles in the past, but never one that was quiet, real quiet or quiet enough to use on a mission.

For nearly a century several troops in many countries have used conventional motorcycles with some success but found that the noise a conventional motor generates was sometimes a problem. Thus there was always a market for a quieter motorcycle. What makes SilentHawk and Nightmare work is that they are designed so the gasoline motor can be easily removed providing a shorter (and a bit lighter) range all-electric bike. For combat in general and SOCOM type operations in particular speed and silence are essential. The SilentHawk is not only quiet but also has a max range of 370 kilometers (170 miles) and can run silent (on just batteries) for up to 80 kilometers. Weighing 149 kg (350 pounds) SilentHawk can also carry 34 kg (75 pounds) of cargo. While based on a commercial bike (RedShift), SOCOM tested it to see if the militarized version is rugged and reliable for battlefield use. SOCOM has tested all-electric bikes before but those did not have the range required for combat use. SilentHawk did not get the job done as well as EZ RAIDER which is why SOCOM is planning to use EZ RAIDER in combat operations that SilentHawk was considered unable to handle. One insurmountable problem with motorcycles is that they require more skill to operate reliably, especially when moving cross country at night.

Motorized stealth in modern combat has been a long sought, but rarely achieved goal. The basic problem was that the best all-terrain vehicles used track laying (like tanks) movement which was inherently noisier than wheels. But as wheeled, all terrain combat vehicles began receiving computer controlled engine management and quieter components in general something unexpected happened. Back in 2005 SOCOM noted how well silence worked for Stryker wheeled armored vehicles as they first entered combat in Iraq. Being a wheeled vehicle, the Stryker could run down cars and trucks, something even a fast tracked armored vehicle, like the M-2 Bradley, could not do. In Iraq, where many of the bad guys rolled around in SUVs, the Stryker could keep up. Not only that, but the fast moving Stryker could get to places more quickly, and, in effect, make more "appointments" with the enemy in a day. It's what they call a "force multiplier."Stealthiness was another thing that was a lifesaver in combat. In Iraq, the quiet Stryker could, literally, sneak up on the enemy, especially since so many of the raids are conducted at night. American troops quickly adapted their tactics to take advantage of it, and these stealthy Strykers quickly put fear in the hearts of the enemy. SOCOM is expected stealthy (silent) motorcycles to do the same. While the stealthy motorcycles were capable of such stealth EZ RAIDER was better, better enough to use in night raids where moving quickly and quietly over difficult terrain was a key advantage.

 


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