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Robots to help Task Force Muleskinner Soldiers counter IED threat

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The improvised explosive device has proven to be an effective albeit crude method of attack against military forces in Afghanistan. One of the best ways to decrease the effectiveness of an IED is to spot it before it detonates, a task that may become considerably easier for Task Force Muleskinner convoys with the recent introduction of Packbots.

Col. Kurt J. Ryan, 10th Sustainment Brigade Task Force Muleskinner commander wanted to take advantage of any technologies that could give convoys superiority over IEDs and issued guidance to the brigade S3 and S4 to procure and implement available systems, said Capt. Brett A. Gillet, 10th SBDE robotics subject matter expert.

One such system is the Packbot. The Packbot is a light weight, remote-controlled robot that can navigate restrictive terrain and obstacles utilizing two rubber tracks. The Packbot has cameras mounted on front and rear arms that articulate enabling the operator to position the cameras for optimal viewing. In addition to the camera on the front arm there is also a set of claws that can grasp items to be moved by the arm. The Packbot is directed by a standard video game controller connected to a ruggedized laptop computer that also displays the video feed from the camera. Each Packbot cost approximately $180,000.00. The Packbots are funded by the Joint IED Defeat Organization and managed by the Joint Robotics Repair Detachment on each major hub.

“The Packbot gives the convoy commander the ability to remotely investigate high threat terrain features or items that are suspect but not suspicious enough to request explosive ordinance disposal,” said Gillet.

Gillet is also the architect of the TF Muleskinner Packbot training and certification program.

The training accommodates six to eight operators completing a minimum of 20 hours of instruction and use of the Packbot during day and nighttime conditions over a 4 to 5 day period, said Gillet.

“When individual operators are ready, I administer the five hour certification test and practical exercise, which gives them full brigade approval to use the Packbot on the road,” said Gillet.

Eight soldiers from the 10th Sustainment Brigade Troops Battalion have completed the training and the 530th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion also has trained operators, but no one has certified yet, he said.

The brigade currently has six Packpots, with 12 due in, said Gillet.

“The 530th CSSB is executing missions with the Packbots now, and I expect 90 percent implementation for all convoys by the end of January,” he said.

Article by Staff Sgt. Cory A. Thatcher, 10th Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs