By Rachel Kersey, 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The recent arrival of a new set of explosive ordnance disposal robots at the 902nd Civil Engineering Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland is enabling Air Force and Space Force EOD teams to do their jobs safer, better, and faster.
Each EOD unit throughout the Air Force and Space Force will receive three to five robots. These machines will enable them to detect, confirm, identify and dispose of unexploded explosive ordnance and other hazards from a safe distance.
The Man Transportable Robotic System-Increment II, or MTSR II, is replacing the Air Force Medium Sized Robot, or AFMSR, which has been in use for a decade.
“The new system is more user-friendly and intuitive, the optics are clearer and offer a bigger field of view,” said Master Sgt. Justin Frewin, equipment program manager for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center at JBSA-Lackland. “Additionally, longer battery life mitigates the potential for prolonged mission interruptions. It’s also nearly 100 pounds lighter than the AFMSR.”
Training on the new units began at JBSA-Lackland at the 902nd CES Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit March 8-12, where Airmen and Guardians learned to utilize the new technology.
Attendees of the training were instructed on the basic operation of the system – how to unpack and inventory it, how to set it up, how to properly operate it via radio and fiber, and how to do maintenance and cleaning of the robot. The class also covered driving, manipulation, and using the cameras on MTRS II.
“We got to do some field testing and see how it handles hurdles and obstacles,” said Senior Airman Nicholas Wake, EOD team member. “Then, we got to drive it around and see how it climb stairs, opens doors, see how high up it can reach, and test the weight of things it can pick up. They can do very fine movements, but are rugged enough to withstand being outdoors and going over rocks.”
Wake is confident the robot will deliver. He said it has exactly the sort of capabilities they need from a medium-sized robot.
“It’s really a step above everything we’ve had in the past,” he said. “When it comes to weaknesses, there aren’t many. It’s a pretty good robot.”
Several EOD members said the older AFMSR robots left a lot to be desired.
“The cameras and radio on the old AFMSR are really bad,” said Staff Sgt. Nicholas McManus, JBSA-Lackland EOD noncommissioned officer in charge of operations.
“We’re talking toggle switches that control arms and remote control systems from before my time,” added Tech. Sgt. Anthony Clark, JBSA-Lackland EOD section chief. “The new robot gives us capabilities to reach distances that no one thought was possible.”
The Air Force acquired 333 of the medium-sized robots, which were approved conceptually in May 2013 and contracted in September 2017.
“Approximately 1,700 Total Force EOD Airmen will use this family of robots,” Frewin said.
“These robot assets will deploy to war zones,” he said. “But it will not be uncommon to see EOD flights utilize these robots during home station training and emergency response operations within the continental United States as the EOD flight dictates operational necessity.”
Emergency responses are where remote operations are most important, and are where the combined capabilities of the robots, technicians, and uniquely skilled civil engineers can save lives.
“EOD members are tasked to eliminate or mitigate explosive hazards and terrorist or criminal devices, to include missions outside the base boundary or base security zone, to enable greater freedom of maneuver for air or surface operations,” Frewin said. “Furthermore, EOD provides a critical enabling capability in the form of collection and exploitation of weapons and explosive material. This capability is essential for operational success during military operations.”
The MTSR II was developed in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, by the U.S. Army Product Manager Robotic and Autonomous Systems.