If the U.S. goes to war against China or Russia, a prime target will be American airbases. Neutralizing key U.S. airfields like Guam would deprive American airpower of runways and maintenance facilities.
But whether the threat is Chinese ballistic missiles, Russian hypersonic missiles, iron bombs, or commandos with mortars, one thing is certain: there will be unexploded ordnance all over the place, as every battle leaves behind dud munitions that are just waiting to detonate.
That’s why the U.S. Air Force is developing a plan to clear unexploded ordnance (UXO) from airbases.
The Air Force has just put out a request for information (RFI) in search of companies that can clean up dud bombs.
The Air Force is looking for a contractor for the Recovery of Airbase Denied by Ordnance (RADBO) system. RADBO comprises three items: Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, Zeus III lasers that neutralize bombs and IEDs, and interrogation arms to grab and analyze UXO. The laser and interrogation arm are mounted on the MRAP, which was originally designed to protect soldiers from IEDs in Iraq.
“The Explosive Ordnance Device (EOD) community requested to have the ability to safely identify, neutralize, and remove UXOs from an attacked airbase,” notes the Air Force RFI.
“This capability also had to have the ability to be integrated onto an EOD MRAP Cougar variant vehicle as this capability would minimize warfighter casualties, due to the operator being seated on the inside of the vehicle, while maximizing its effectiveness on an airbase.”
The boys are back in town
The nine-foot-tall MRAP weighs about 16 tons and has a V-shaped hull designed to deflect mine blasts. The interrogation arm resembles a small excavator arm found on bulldozers.
The most exotic item in RADBO is the Zeus III, a three-kilowatt laser that has been employed in Iraq and Afghanistan to detonate bombs.
“The system achieves neutralization by focusing a laser on the outer casing of the target munition,” Zeus manufacturer Parsons says. “This heats the explosive filler until ignition, resulting in rapid combustion or deflagration of the explosive material, thus neutralizing the target munition, independent of the type of fusing used. The resulting low-order explosion minimizes collateral damage and protects explosive ordnance disposal personnel and equipment.”
What’s particularly interesting here is that the U.S. military is finding a practical use for the MRAP.
After the Iraq and Afghanistan wars ended, the Pentagon found itself stuck with 20,000 vehicles that were built for counterinsurgency rather than the heavy mechanized warfare that the U.S. could face in theaters such as Europe. While the vehicles’ high V-shaped hulls did provide some protection against IEDs, the MRAP was too heavy and prone to rollover.
However, employed in a small, defined area such as an airbase – where it won’t have to maneuver over bad roads or avoid ambushes – a vehicle designed to protect its crew from IEDs would seem a logical choice for clearing unexploded bombs.
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