Magazine article National Defense

Navy Presses on with Long-Delayed Bomb Disposal Robot Program

Magazine article National Defense

Navy Presses on with Long-Delayed Bomb Disposal Robot Program

Article excerpt

The Navy expects to field the first of three planned explosive ordnance disposal robots in 2017, almost 10 years after the program was announced, service officials said in a recent interview.

The Navy is the executive agent for explosive ordnance disposal technologies and as such is responsible across the four services for developing the next-generation of robots that EOD teams use to help them dismantle unexploded ordnance, roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices.

Its advanced explosive ordnance disposal robotic system (AEODRS) program is developing a family of three robots: increment 1, a small backpackable reconnaissance system weighing less than 35 pounds; increment 2, a two-man-portable robot weighing about 165 pounds with an arm, or arms that can help dismantle bombs; and increment 3, a robust 750-pound robot that can pick up heavy unexploded ordnance.

The largest potential customer for the program, the Army--at risk of losing its obligated funding if it didn't commit to procuring a product--has abandoned the program. It announced in December upcoming programs of record to acquire systems similar to the Navy's increments 1 and 2 robots and has no requirement for increment 3.

An Army Tank Automotive Research Development Engineering Center spokesman in a statement said it was proceeding with its own program for the time being. "While we would defer any specific questions about AEODRS to the Navy, we remain open to potential system collaboration based on mission requirements," he said.

The Air Force pulled out of the increment 1 program in 2014. It recently completed development of a similarsized reconnaissance robot in less than one year. Meanwhile, the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Indian Head EOD technology division--the Navy customer for the AEODRS program-continues to buy off-the-shelf robots. It signed three indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts with iRobot from August to October last year for small recon robots for the Navy and Marine Corps, spare parts for its legacy Mark 1 robots, and new-build MKls, of which the increment 2 robot is intended to replace.

Michael J. Alperi, deputy program manager of SEA-06 expeditionary missions at Naval Sea Systems Command, said progress toward completing development work on the increment 1 robot is being made after the Navy awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman last year.

The new robot will have its critical design review in the coming months. The Navy will take delivery of the systems in the fourth quarter of this year after the company completes validation testing in the third quarter, he said. The Navy will verify the performance of the system prior to making a production decision.

"There is a lot of positive movement since we have made the award. There have been no major technical issues, so we are really pleased with our progress," Alperi said in an interview.

Production and development of increment 1 is expected in the second quarter of fiscal year 2017, according to a Navy PowerPoint presentation released in December. Marine Corps and Navy EOD teams are the only remaining customers for this robot.

Increment 2, which has been described as the workhorse of the EOD robots, is not scheduled to go into production until the third quarter of 2019.

Alperi said, "The contract is set up where we have the ability if they [the Air Force and Army] come back in and see that the program is successful, or find money, we could buy for them."

While the Army would not provide officials for comment, an Air Force EOD officer who has attended Army briefings on its plans said the service will refurbish and repurpose the chassis of the off-the-shelf robots it acquired in the thousands during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Some of these would be the same weight class of the increment 2 robot.

"The chassis are valuable," Maj. Shane C.R. Frith, commander of the Air Force EOD division, said in an interview. …

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