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NEWS | Oct. 19, 2023

Robot Range Enhancements Unveiled at the Fall DoD EODT&T Program Board Meeting

By NSWC Indian Head Public Affairs Office

Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Division’s (NSWC IHD) Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technology Center (EODTECHCEN) hosted the fall EOD Technology and Technical (EODT&T) Program Board meeting, September 28. Members of the board, comprised of rear admirals, brigadier generals, major generals and other high-ranking officials from each of the four services were afforded the opportunity to witness the ribbon cutting for a new facility located at the robot range at EODTECHCEN.

The new facility, deemed “The Robot Building,” not only showcases a static exhibition of the evolution of robots and robotic platforms dating from the 1980s to present day, but houses a space that allows for growth as state-of-the-art test methodologies continue to evolve. The structure, conveniently co-located adjacent to the robot test range, will provide ample opportunity for test structures to be used indoors alongside the outdoor structures at the test range.

The robot range is a proven asset since the early 2000s used to quantify unmanned system performance. Upgrading to standardized test methods will allow for a better understanding of system performance, as well as completing the link between requirements and robot performance. The robot test range has been used to test capabilities of robotic platforms for legacy EOD robots including the Man Transportable Robotic System (MTRS) and Remote Ordnance Neutralization System (RONS) platforms, and houses various terrains and scenarios including grass, gravel, sand, dirt, rubble, mud, water, slopes, and indoor environments. The range was used extensively for evaluating robotic systems and upgrades supporting Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF), ultimately supporting more than 6,000 procured and sustained robots for EOD operators throughout the lifecycle of the MTRS and RONS.

The process to upgrade to the new robot testing facility came with a few challenges. Beginning in 2012, EODTECHCEN identified the need to standardize NSWC IHD’s Unmanned Systems (UxS) test capabilities. The contract was awarded and the design was completed in fiscal year (FY) 2019. Although construction began in FY20, it was immediately put on hold due to identification of buried UXO. Following UXO remediation, construction resumed in mid-FY22 and the facility was completed in the third quarter of FY23.

“This facility was originally designed in a previous era and was really hopping. It got its start as a test bed for unmanned ground and aerial vehicles and has come a long way from a basic NAVFAC [Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command] project to a NAVSEA [Naval Sea Systems Command] Capital Investment Project.” said NSWC IHD Commanding Officer CAPT Steve Duba.

The Robot Building isn’t the only enhancement for NSWC IHD’s UxS test capabilities. During the process of upgrading the range, several standardized test capabilities were constructed with assistance from U.S. Naval Construction Battalions (Seabees) from Norfolk, Virginia, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), resulting in six CONEX boxes capable of reconfiguration for a multitude of standardized NIST test methods.

EODTECHCEN will use the new building to develop, integrate, assess and test unmanned systems, technologies, payloads and advanced capabilities — all targeted at meeting the gaps identified within the current joint EOD (JEOD) Integrated Capabilities Priorities List. Planned and potential additions to the building include an unmanned aircraft systems test net, a motion capture system, and high-end computer/server systems. These upgrades aim to increase the multi-domain UxS capabilities of JEOD operators via Research, Development, Test and Evaluation in UxS technology areas including automated threat recognition autonomy; UxS collaboration; artificial intelligence/machine learning; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and standoff access/neutralization.

“This has been my pet project since 2012,” said Deputy EOD Department Head (Acting) Mike Del Signore. “As of today, this facility will be utilized by all EOD Technology Center divisions moving forward — from interoperability to interchangeability, [this] is what the facility is designed to do.”