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Mini-Flail / Robotic Combat Support System (RCSS)

At least five evolutionary variants of a small robotic mine proofing system have been developed by the UGV/S JPO in response to contingency operations needs in the Balkans since 1996. These Mini-Flails provide the warfighter a capability to remotely mine proof trail-width sized areas in terrain inaccessible to a larger platform like Panther. Six Mini-Flails are deployed today in the Balkans, and four systems are deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The Mini-Flail program has been expanded to meet the requirements of the Army ORD for a RCSS.

The Mini-Flail is a remotely operated, line-of-sight, AP-mine and UXO neutralization system, used in the clearing or proofing of a footpath or small mined areas. It can clear at a rate of 1,200 square meters per hour. The Mini-Fail detonates or disables AP mines from a safe operating distance. The Mini-Flail neutralizes by striking objects with a rotating chain assembly, called a flail, and clears a footpath approximately 1.1 meters wide. The system neutralizes AP mines and UXO by detonation, mechanical destruction, or displacement from the cleared lane. It is fully armored with a steel plate and Spectra, a material similar to KEVLAR, and the tires are filled with foam. The flail is a self-articulating, hydraulically powered shaft with 84 chains; each chain is 0.5 meter long. A remote control unit allows operations of the Mini-Flail from as far away as 1000 meters line of sight. The front of the vehicle is equipped with a rotation cylinder -shaped flail drum with several steel chains attached. When activated and lowered, the drum rotates and allows the chains to strike and detonate mines on the ground. At 2,340 pounds, the Mini-Flail is 50 inches in width and 120 inches in length. When in the clearing mode (flail on and rotating) the Mini-Flail travels at a rate of two and a half (2 ) miles per hour. With the flail off, the vehicle can travel up to five and one-half (5 ) miles per hour. The Mini-Flail is easily transportable by light trailers towed by FMTV and by HMMWV. It is also capable of being sling loaded by the UH-60 helicopter.

Following the success of the Mini-Flail system developed by OST to clear anti-personnel mines in Bosnia, the Engineer School developed a draft ORD for Robotic Combat Support System (RCSS) in October 1998. It specifies a requirement for two versions, RCSS Block 1 and RCSS Blocks 2 and 3 (a product improvement to Block 2). The ORD is in the final approval stages at HQ TRADOC.

The RCSS is an unmanned ground vehicle with interchangeable attachments that enable a remote operator to perform tasks normally requiring several people/ vehicles. RCSS Block 1 will use a commercial vehicle similar to the skid-loader chassis of the Mini-Flail system. Like the Mini-Flail, the RCSS Block 1 will be operated by a remote operator who is within view of the vehicle. RCSS Block 1 with the flail attachment will be used to "sweep" un-exploded submunitions and scattermines from airfield runways. The RCSS Blocks 2 and 3 will use a heavier commercial vehicle with the primary purpose of creating safe lanes through AP land-mines, unexploded submunitions, booby traps, and wire obstacles. In addition, RCSS Blocks 2 and 3 will sweep unexploded submunitions and scattermines from airfield runways, deliver explosive type penetrators to create access into buildings, and emplace demolitions with a robotic arm to create lanes through AP obstacles. The RCSS Blocks 2 and 3 will be capable of both wireless teleoperation and manual operation.

The current RCSS program was preceded by the Trail Flail, Modular Flail, and three revisions of the Mini-Flail: the low intensity conflict (LIC) Mini-Flail, the Bosnia-Standard Mini-Flail, and the Product Improved Mini-Flail. All versions have maximized use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies and all use line-of-sight (LOS) remote control. As a result of a successful ATD with the LIC Mini-Flail [conducted in Kuwait by the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), under the auspices of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM)], the U.S. Army engineers requested the LIC Mini-Flail for use in Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia. In preparation for deployment, several shortcomings in the LIC Mini-Flail were identified; some corrective modifications were made, resulting in the Bosnia-Standard Mini-Flails. Four of these were deployed to Bosnia.

The RCSS will be an unmanned ground vehicle with a 300-meter line-of-sight (LOS) range and with interchangeable attachments that enable a remote operator to perform tasks normally requiring several people/vehicles. RCSS will perform a variety of missions by addition or replacement of mission essential modules. In addition to AP landmine neutralization, missions may include: (1) wire breaching; (2) dispensing of obscurants; (3) emplacing demolitions; (4) sweeping runways, and (5) creating access lanes through buildings or other antipersonnel obstacles.

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