By Paul W. Barada
---- — By now, I suppose everyone has seen the ads for the Wounded Warrior Project. According to Wikipedia, the “Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) began when several veterans and friends, moved by stories of the first wounded service members returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq, took action to help others in need. What started as a program to provide comfort items to wounded service members has grown into a complete rehabilitative effort to assist warriors as they recover and transition back to civilian life.”
Another important statistic is that the number of casualties caused by roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had reached more than 3,300 in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available. Many of the soldiers who receive aid from the Wounded Warrior Project come from the ranks of those who have been severely injured by IEDs in Afghanistan, particularly those who have lost limbs or suffered severe head injuries. A little research shows that there is a wide variety of non-profit organizations that exist to provide services to veterans. One would think, however, that the federally funded Veterans Administration would be the primary source of help for wounded members of our armed forces. A little more research seems to suggest that the VA isn’t doing a very good job of caring for wounded veterans – but that, perhaps, is a story for another time.
Some time ago I wondered, through this column, why the Army wasn’t making more extensive use of an old device from those distant days of World War II called a flail tank. Quoting again from Wikipedia, a flail “consists of a number of heavy chains, ending in fist-sized steel balls, (flails) that are attached to a horizontal, rapidly rotating rotor mounted on two arms in front of the vehicle. The rotor’s rotation makes the flails spin wildly and violently pound the ground. The force of a flail strike above a buried mine mimics the weight of a person or vehicle and causes the mine to detonate, but in a safe manner that does little damage to the flails or the vehicle.” It was also noted that even if a mine wasn’t detonated by the flail, it was often destroyed by the action of the spinning flails without detonating thus making the mine harmless.
One would think that the number of deadly injuries caused by roadside IEDs could be substantially reduced by using flail tanks to sweep Afghan roads before sending any military vehicles down them, let alone sending foot soldiers in harm’s way. A flail may not detonate every IED, but I would expect it to set off a substantial number of them, not to mention destroying trip-wires that might otherwise be overlooked. Nothing is ever going to eliminate every kind of IED, but using up-to-date versions of the flail tank seems to make very good sense.
The latest advancement in the development of flail technology is the remote controlled flail. The M160 remote controlled flail robot is being used by Army personnel in Afghanistan to clear roads of IEDs without endangering the lives of American soldiers. The manufacturer also produces a larger version of the five-ton M160, called the MV-10, which can detonate anti-tank mines. Using either version of the remote controlled flail makes far more sense than earlier versions of this device, which required a driver to maneuver the flail down mine strewn roads. Wonder why the Army didn’t think of it sooner!
Of equal importance, more and more of the most dangerous tasks that used to be done by foot soldiers are now being done by remote controlled robots on land and in the air. One can only wonder how long it will be before a robot takes the place of the GI on the most deadly missions against hostile forces. There are already smaller tank-like robots mounted with M-60 machine guns that look like they could do a lot of damage to an enemy.
New armament development should be making our troops on the ground safer, and it is possible to envision the day when remote control weapons will dominate the battlefield of the future. Troops on the ground, however, will still be needed once the robots have done their job. One cannot help but wonder, nonetheless, why it took so long for the Army to look back in its own history to find the flail tank from World War II. When first used in North Africa, the flail tank produced so much noise and dust, combined with its terrifying appearance that it caused several German units of Rommel’s Africa Corps to surrender! It’s not difficult to imagine a modern flail having the same effect on Taliban fighters, if battle-hardened German troops surrendered at the mere sight of a flail tank pounding toward them.
Ultimately, however, the point of all remote controlled weapons is to reduce the horrendous casualties caused by mines and IEDs planted along the roadways and in the fields of enemy territory. The Wounded Warrior Project provides help to soldiers who have suffered terrible injuries as a result of these unseen mines and roadside IEDs. Hopefully, the day will come when no more Americans soldiers will be crippled for life when a remote controlled substitute can take their places on the battlefield – even if the inspiration had to come from devices first used over 60 years ago!
That’s -30- for this week.