What do you know about tunnel warfare?
It’s not new because it has been part of military history since ancient times through the 20th century. It had been abandoned by the military when mobile warfare was introduced which eventually made subterranean warfare useless in an environment of quick and dynamic enemies.
Re-emergence of Subterranean Warfare
But as insurgents in the 21st century turned to the underground domain, subterranean warfare emerged once again. The fierce fighting the world is witnessing between Israel and the Palestinian terror organizations in Gaza is a clear indication of the growing need for technologies that can assist the regular military operating in the subterranean environment.
Ground Robots For Underground Operations
Underground human activities can be assisted by ground robots. In many cases, they can even replace operations manned by humans in certain applications. Operations and missions taken over by robots are often safer, faster, and more precise compared to missions assumed by humans.
But robots don’t have the autonomy and situational understanding of the mission. As robots depend on the operator input, it requires a reliable communications system that would connect the subterranean operator to the surface. Additionally, basic attributes required for its operation such as guidance and navigation have to be complied with.
Semi-autonomous Capabilities Of Robots
Some of the ground robots being used by the military have semi-autonomous capabilities including:
- Climbing stairs
- Rolling over
- Gripping an object
Tunnel Scouting Robots
Tunnel scouting robots which the military lower into tunnels through ventilation shafts use a tether that delivers power and a communications link to and from the platform. The link allows the robot to deploy on its mission without restriction on communications range or on-board power as it delivers imagery and data in real-time to the human operator on the surface.
Other Robots For Underground Operations
Cave Crawler and the Groundhog are products from research done in early 2000 and developed at Carnegie Mellon University which paved the way for cave exploration and underground archeological research using robots. Such projects later evolved into a search and rescue robot called Gemini Scout, which was developed at Sandia laboratories.
The robot is designed to assist in underground rescue missions in mines and tunnels. The only thing it lacked is the agility and size suitable for tactical missions.
Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR)
Roboteam has developed one of the robots which the military deem suitable for subterranean operations – the Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR). It’s a tactical vehicle designed for the military that is unique and lightweight, but with high maneuverability in all outdoor and indoor terrains.
The MTGR may be used for Special Ops, monitoring public safety, or for tactical missions and other combat situations. With parts meticulously produced using the high-precision EDM machining system, the MTG robot is made of composite materials, capable of operating with state-of-the-art motors powered by standard military batteries.
It is equipped with an internal microphone, visible laser pointers, and five days/night cameras giving the robot the capability to provide ISR – intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance 360 degrees from its position and in real-time.
Priority Fielding And Evaluation
A $15.6 million budget has been allocated by the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Organization (CTTSO) in 2013 for the evaluation and fielding of the MTG robots through 2015. There are about 100 MTG robots that are operational with combat teams of the:
- Naval Special Warfare Command
- Army Special Operations Command
- FBI-Hostage Rescue Team
- Border Patrol Special Operations Group (BPSOG)
- Fire Department of New York
- Joint Explosive Ordnance Disposal
- Marine Corps Combat Engineer Schoolhouse
The BPSOG used the MTG robots in detecting tunnels along the US-Mexican border in Tijuana. Other interagency tactical units or domestic operations will receive another 35 MGT robot from CTTSO.
Will the military develop more advanced Micro Tactical Ground Robots for subterranean operations?