New robots keep Marines safe, explosives at arm’s length
By Monique Randolph, MCSC Corporate Communications
| Marine Corps Systems Command | March 21, 2014
March 21, 2014 --
The Robotic Systems Joint Project Office conducted new equipment training on the Route Reconnaissance and Clearance, or R2C, robot with Marines from the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., March 10-13. The training event included classroom instruction, practical exercise and an end-of-course test to certify the Marines to operate the R2C robot.
“The R2C robot is a [counter-improvised explosive device] tool,” said Lou Anulare, assistant program manager for Marine Corps Unmanned Ground Vehicles under the RS JPO in Warren, Mich. “This system provides a new option for route reconnaissance and clearance operations to be used in place of putting Marines in harm’s way.”
As the office responsible for everything from acquisition to sustainment of unmanned ground systems for the Army and Marine Corps, RS JPO reports to both the Army’s Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Systems and Marine Corps Systems Command.
They have fielded 22 R2C robots to Marine operating forces since January.
The R2C robot features an improved communications system with two radio frequencies so it can operate in the continental United States and overseas. The robot is also equipped with a fiber-optic spooler, allowing it to be tethered to the controller in situations where radio frequency cannot be used.
“While under radio frequency operation, the R2C increases the Marines’ arm length to over 800 meters, providing them a safe distance to do interrogation of possible IED threats,” Anulare said. “So far in theater, we’ve had more than 800 robots destroyed. We believe each one of those losses represents a Marine or soldier’s life or limb saved.”
Additionally, a three-link arm gives the robot increased reach for more flexibility. The robot also has multiple cameras, providing Marines improved visibility when evaluating potential threats.
The R2C robots were fielded to Marine combat engineers who support ground forces by performing demolition, construction, mine clearing, maintenance and repair operations.
“This robot is a great piece of gear,” said Sgt. Jared Mount, a combat engineer with the 2nd CEB. “This is the sixth or seventh robot I’ve worked with. It definitely tops the robots we’ve used. The controllers are easier to use, and it can pick up more weight with the heavier arm. The cameras and new arm make it much easier to maneuver. It’s going to save more Marines’ lives.”
The R2C robot is based on the Army’s FasTac robot, a legacy commercial-off-the-shelf platform. The Army provided excess FasTacs to the Marine Corps, which reduced the time it took to field the capability to Marines, said Col. Ben Stinson, RS JPO project manager.
The Marine Corps worked with Army engineers and logisticians from the Detroit Arsenal Team to modify and upgrade the FasTacs to meet Marine Corps requirements, Stinson said.
“Additionally, [Marines] are embedded with the Army at RS JPO,” Stinson said. “Their knowledge and expertise played heavily in our ability to establish a production line to upgrade the robots. RS JPO has a depot-like maintenance capability, so the expertise of how to tear apart and rebuild the robots was resident because of the mission we’ve had for the last 12 years supporting [Operation Enduring Freedom].”
The R2C robot is the first robotics program of record for the Marine Corps.
“Being a program of record means the robot now has the ability to exist after the war,” Stinson said. “It is in the base funding for R2C, will be incorporated into the school house [curriculum] and provisioned through the Marine Corps supply system. We transitioned a commercial item procured for OEF to an enduring program that will be used after the war.”