Infantry: Ten Percent of the Troops Are Robots


April 21, 2006: The infantry in Iraq, as they have in most wars, have picked up a lot of new skills because of the kind of war they are involved with. IEDs (roadside bombs, or Improvised Explosive Devices), a constant problem, have forced American infantry to adapt in some interesting ways. While infantry patrols, usually in armored hummers, are good at spotting IEDs, they have to wait for an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team to check it out and destroy it. That's time consuming, especially since there is a lot more call for EOD teams. Partly this is because, at least until late last year, the enemy was planting more IEDs. But mainly it's because with more Iraqi police and army patrols out there, more IEDs are being spotted sooner, and these guys call on the EOD teams as well. While some suspected IEDs can be checked out, and taken care of, with a burst of machine-gun fire, if the thing doesn't go off, you need EOD to come do the deed. To get around this delay, the infantry have been improvising. This started out with troops buying toy remote control vehicles, attacking a wireless vidcam to it, and checking out the suspected IEDs themselves. Some troops went further and got toy remote control dump trucks, that could carry an explosive charge (a chunk of C4 plastic explosive) with a wireless detonator. The truck was driven up to the IED, the explosive dumped, and after the truck was safely away, the IED was destroyed.

Noting this, the army got a cheap robot for the convoys and troop patrols to use. The $8,000 MARCBOT (Multi Function Agile Remote-Controlled Robot) received rave reviews from the troops. This one has a movable arm, is sturdier and more mobile than the toys the troops had been using. Hundreds were ordered.

All this takes a big load off the EOD teams, who still get called out for tricky jobs, or for all the convoys and patrols that don't have a robot with them. But most troops prefer to have their own robot along, as these can be used for all manner of dangerous reconnaissance. The troops love their combat droids, often giving them names, and mourning their loss when an IED or enemy fire gets one. But in those situations know that it could have been one of them that got hit. You don't have to write letters of condolence home to the parents of dead robots. If the troops had as many combat robots as they wanted, about ten percent of the "troops" would be robots. That percentage will increase as the robots become more capable.


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