Imagine an MRAP with a robotic arm and a 3-kilowatt laser, which the user aims and fires using a PlayStation 4-like controller.
It may sound like the fever dream of a weapons designer, or the result of a video game cheat code, but the RADBO vehicle — short for Recovery of Airbase Denied by Ordnance — is very real, developed by the Air Force to clear unexploded bombs from runways, and modified and tested with help from Army officials at Alabama's Redstone Arsenal.
Fifteen of the reimagined Cougar mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, including the prototype, could be ready by early fiscal year 2017, program officials said. The vehicle, and its aftermarket add-ons, will allow for the safer, faster disposal of runway-blocking ordnance — a requirement identified by Air Force Central Command.
The vehicle, or related spinoffs, could find a home with other services, as well. Here's what you need to know:
1. IED-zapping. The RADBO's Zeus III laser allows the operator to trigger an unexploded bomb from up to 300 meters away, said Air Force Col. Jeffry Gates, senior materiel leader for the support element and vehicles division at the Air Force's Agile Combat Support Directorate. The attached Interrogation Arm/claw combo can clear up to 50 pounds of debris, according to an Army release, helping speed the process.
The 15-vehicle procurement, plus research and development costs, comes to $42 million, Gates said.
2. One-stop shopping. Current ordnance-clearing methods can involve crews attempting to trigger explosives via kinetic energy, Gates said — in other words, shooting at them with a vehicle-mounted .50-caliber weapon, or similar. When the ordnance doesn't explode, a remote-control loader is called in to get the dangerous device off the runway to be dealt with later by bomb-disposal teams.
RADBO's bomb-clearance method is "a lot more reliable than having a bullet bounce off it," Gates said — a fact he expects to be demonstrated in operational testing this summer.
A Recovery of Airbase Denied by Ordnance, or RADBO, prototype is shown during a testing phase in February at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. (Photo: Army)