Infantry: Talon Takes Gaza


February 6, 2015: During the 50 Day War with Hamas in July-August 2014 Israel combat engineers got a chance to use their new Talon 4 bomb disposal robots in combat for the first time. Hamas used a lot of roadside bombs and booby traps so the engineers were kept busy. Talon is a proven and reliable robot for dealing with bombs and booby traps. In service since 2000, over 4,000 Talons have been purchased. Talon is one of the larger, faster, sturdier, capable, and more expensive of these bomb disposal robots. The latest model, the Talon IV is a 76.3 kg (168 pound) tracked vehicle that is 863mm (34 inches) long, 571mm (22.5 inches) wide, and 279mm (11 inches) high. The control unit weighs 20 kg (44 pounds) and can control the robot via wire or radio up to 1,000 meters away.

Talon endurance is 4.5 hours (before batteries have to be recharged or replaced with a fresh set) and top speed is 8.3 kilometers (5.2 miles) an hour. In practical terms, that is 2.3 meters a second. For a large bomb the operator would be 50 or more meters away, meaning it would take half a minute for the Talon to reach the bomb. There it would use its camera and extendable arm to examine the object and, if need be, leave an explosive device (detonated remotely), back away, and allow the bomb to be destroyed.

The U.S. Army pioneered the use of these robots for bomb disposal and security tasks in the 1990s. Since 2002 the military has been the main customer for these devices. As things calmed down in Afghanistan and Iraq, the majority were bought by the regular customers; police and fire departments, as well as companies that might have to handle dangerous substances.

Impressed by robots like Talon in 2005 the U.S. Army began developing a robot optimized for military use and capable of doing more than help deal with roadside bombs and other enemy traps. This was the XM1216 SUGV (Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle) robot. Unfortunately, SUGV development reached the production stage just as fighting in Iraq was over (for the U.S.) and Afghanistan was winding down. Only a few hundred SUGVs have been built. However, it is the next generation infantry droid and does a lot more than bomb disposal droids.

SUGV is a 13 kg (29 pound) robot, similar to the slightly larger, and widely used, Packbot. SUGV can carry 3 kg (6.6 pounds) of gear, and seven different "mission packages" are available. These include various types of sensors and double jointed arms (for grabbing things). SUGV is waterproof and shock resistant. It fits into the standard army backpack and is meant to operate in a harsh environment. The battery powered SUGV is operated wirelessly, or via a fiber optic cable, using a controller that looks like a video game controller with a video screen built in. SUGV can also use an XBox 360 controller, with the right drivers. Like the current PackBot, SUGV can climb stairs and maneuver over rubble and other nasty terrain.

The SUGV design is based largely on feedback from combat troops. For example, it is rugged enough to be quickly thrown into a room, or cave, activated, and begin sending video (using heat sensing cameras), as well as audio, of what is in there. This feature makes it very popular with the troops, as everyone appreciates a droid with the ability to see, hear, and smell more acutely. No one likes being the first one going into dark, potentially dangerous, places. Throwing a grenade in first doesn't always work, because sometimes frightened civilians are in there. But the current generation of robots are not fast enough, agile enough, or sensitive enough to compete with human troops doing this kind of work. Sometimes, however, the robots are an adequate, and life-saving, substitute. SUGV is supposed to be better at this sort of thing and future generations will be more capable.

SUGV can also perform outpost and listening post work. These are dangerous jobs the infantry are glad to hand off to a robot. Outposts are, as the name implies, one or two troops dug in a hundred meters or so in front of the main position, to give early warning of an enemy attack. A listening post is similar but the friendly troops are often much deeper into enemy territory. The SUGV battery enables it to just sit in one place, listening and watching, for 8 hours or more. After that, you send out another SUGV with a fresh battery and have the other one come back for a recharge. No risk of troops getting shot at while doing the same things, and the troops really appreciate that. Again, the problem with this is that the robot sensors are just not there yet. Getting close, but not close enough for troops to trust their lives to this thing.

Israel has produced specialized robots for security work and buy the best available bomb disposal robots for their combat engineers. The Talon carried out over 20,000 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan for American forces and many other nations as well because of the U.S. experience. The Iraqi Army ordered over a hundred Talons in 2013.





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