Robotic Underground Munitions

Robotic underground munition (RUM) is being sought by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). Their basic concept is that of a "one-time use, air-delivered, highly mobile vehicle having certain characteristics similar to an unmanned ground vehicle."

The following technology objectives would move us in this direction, according to DTRA:

  1. Survivable underground communication system.
  2. Capabilities to efficiently overcome natural and man-made obstacles.
  3. Robust sensors and perception.
Certain other characteristics are desirable:
  1. Payload and fuzing development, integration and demonstration. The payload must be compatible with inflight and ground environments including long term storage under adverse temperature conditions, as well as all DoD insensitive munitions and other safety requirements.
  2. Viable passive and active defensive and offensive systems.
  3. Autonomous underground controls and navigation.
  4. Vehicle control logic to avoid, traverse, neutralize or defeat natural and man-made obstacles.
  5. Safe separation and accurate soft landing form an aircraft.
I think that DTRA is making a serious mistake by limiting their search to munitions, because there are more ways to get at an enemy underground besides blowing them up.

For example, in his 1953 short story Second Variety, Philip K. Dick describes small robots with whirling blades that were specifically designed to get at enemy troops in bunkers:

"It doesn't take them long. Not after the first one gets in. It goes wild. You know what the little claws can do. Even one of these is beyond belief. Razors, each finger. Maniacal."

... And they started getting into bunkers, slipping down when the lids were raised for air and a look around. One claw inside a bunker, a churning sphere of blades and metal - that was enough. And when one got in others followed.
(Read more about PKD's robot claws)

DTRA should also take a serious look at the robot earthworms described by Harry Harrison in his classic 1962 short story War With The Robots:

It resembled no machine that Pere had ever seen, rather it looked like a mass of tiny gleaming roots: the red earth still packed between them heightened the illusion.

"How does it work?"

The robot reached out - leaning very close to focus its microscopic eyepieces - and carefully pulled one of the strands free. It lay on the robot's outstretched metallic palm, eight inches long, an eighth of an inch in diameter. Seen close it was not completely flexible, but made instead of pivoted and smoothly finished segments. The robot pointed out the parts of interest.

"...At the front end is a hard-edged orifice that drills a hole in the ground. Debris is carried back through the body of the machine and eliminated here: in operation it is not unlike the common earthworm. Directional apparatus here guides it, oriented by a gravimeter to locate our base. Here a power unit and here a frequency generator...

"They have no metallic components ... they move very slowly... we estimate they entered the ground four years ago."

These robot earthworms completely destroyed underground bunkers by slowly digesting their infrastructure, which may take longer than blowing it up, but wouldn't you rather be thorough?

From RFI for RUM via Frolix_8.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/20/2010)

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