Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mechanical Arm Attaches Helps Vehicles With IED Clearance

A new tool may soon help route clearance teams detect and neutralize potentially deadly improvised explosive devices in Iraq. An IED Interrogation Arm for the RG-31 and Husky vehicles has been developed by the Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate, part of the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command. NV&ESD Team Leader Larry Jackson said there are several vehicles currently used for route clearance missions, including the Buffalo Mine Protected Vehicle. But, he said, demand for the Buffalo is very high. "The word we got back from theater is that Soldiers often don't have the Buffalos when they need them," he said. "The vehicle is in high demand, and there just aren't enough of them." In collaboration with the team at NV&ESD, discussions began for a new technology that could help teams interrogate IEDs and be quickly developed and fielded."We said we would like to provide a similar arm capability to vehicles such as the Husky and the RG-31 which were being used in security missions but had no arm attachment that would allow for IED interrogation," Jackson said. The new arm, which was initially fielded in Iraq in May 2007 and Afghanistan in July 2007, is designed as an independent component. It is able to be attached to existing vehicles already in theater. Additionally, the arm is lightweight, easily mounted and repaired, easy to use and significantly less expensive than the Buffalo, Jackson said. Stephen H. Bennett , a mechanical engineer with NV&ESD, was present in Iraq last spring to support deployment of the new arm. He reports a positive reaction to the technology. "The feedback has been positive, and the troops like it," he said. As the Interrogation Arm continues to be refined, there is constant communication with the Soldiers on the ground, providing engineers with first-hand guidance on functional improvements, Jackson said. It was as a result of this ongoing collaboration with the Soldiers who use the arm that functional advancements were made, including the ability to examine hard-to-reach areas behind guard rails."We got this information back from the theater and realized we needed to put a pivot point in the middle of the arm so that if there is a guard rail, you can reach out and dip down behind to do the interrogation," Jackson said. After initial fielding in both Iraq and Afghanistan, additional Interrogation Arm units have been ordered for use in theater, and NV&ESD has been working with Program Manager Countermine to feed the continually growing demand. "We have been asked to adapt it to different vehicles and we are getting more and more applications in the field," said Jackson. After 28 years as a civilian engineer for the U.S. Army, Jackson continues to take satisfaction in knowing his work helps to protect our troops. "The satisfaction of getting this piece of equipment into theater where it is helping to save Soldiers' lives is very rewarding," he said. "For me, this has been the most satisfying project I have worked on in my career." Bennett agreed. "There is a satisfying feeling you get when you design something that makes a significant difference," Bennett said.

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