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The US Department of Defense is looking for new explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technology for the near-peer competition. Improvised explosive devices planted by insurgents were one of the top threats challenging the US military during the post-9/11 conflicts overseas, e.g. in Afghanistan. But now, the U.S. military needs to be prepared for large-area clearance operations, and is refocusing on neutralizing bombs and mines that it could face in future conflicts against more advanced adversaries such as China and Russia. A science-and-technology effort is underway to find a next-generation breacher to replace the legacy mine-clearing line charge. The concept calls for mounting payloads on robotic combat vehicles that can help defeat minefields by using sensors, launching payloads from a standoff distance, and employing guidance systems that can tailor payloads for precision or scalable effects.
Another large-area clearance challenge that officials are worried about is rapid airfield damage recovery, which could be required if U.S. air bases are hit by Chinese or Russian munitions.
Among the technologies tested is a directed energy system known as Radbo, which features a Parsons-made Zeus laser mounted on a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle. It is intended to zap large numbers of explosive hazards from up to 300 meters away and neutralize them.
Another capability in the works is an armored front-end loader which is to be paired with a large clearance blade assembly and robotic applique to enable efficient removal of unexploded ordnance from airfield surfaces. Such systems, developed by Redstone Arsenal, can clear runways of explosive hazards within a short period of time.
However, those technologies might have trouble addressing what officials say is currently the biggest capability gap within the rapid explosive hazard mitigation portfolio: SLAM. The acronym stands for subsurface locate and mitigate, and refers to finding and neutralizing underground threats. Penetrating bombs could leave holes in an airfield that have to be cleared, including unexploded ordnance. So far, the military has been using handheld devices to detect and locate underground threats, but with larger munitions this will not be sufficient.
Moreover, current EOD capabilities for identifying and accessing subsurface munitions can cause additional damage to a runway after an enemy attack.
Robotics and machine learning could provide better solutions. The service is looking at small drones that could scan areas that would be difficult for ground robots to reach, such as the top of a building or the opposite side of a wall or other obstacles. The platforms could be used to look for explosive hazards and drop charges to neutralize them.
Additionally, there is a requirement for extended range mesh networking to enhance communications between machines and EOD technicians, according to nationaldefensemagazine.org.