Robots Replace Soldiers in First Breaching Exercise of its Kind

Spc. Brandon Burton fits a chemical warfare detection device to an unmanned aerial system during the Robotic Complex Breach Concept demonstration April 6 at Grafenwoehr, Germany. (Stars and Stripes photo/Martin Egnash)


GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — Humans took a backseat during a base exercise on Friday, in which robots cleared obstacles for manned tanks and fighting vehicles.

U.S. and British troops participated in the Robotic Complex Breach Concept demonstration, during which several remote-controlled vehicles performed a task usually carried out by soldiers.

“We did a robotic breach today, which has never been done before. This is a historic moment,” said 1st Lt. Cody Rothschild, an officer with the 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, currently on rotation in Europe. “This is a great step forward for the Army, and for robotics.”

The rotational armor brigade was the main armor element during the exercise. It provided suppressing fire with M1A2 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, while remote-controlled U.K. Terrier engineering vehicles cleared a simulated minefield and bridged a tank trench.

Breaching enemy obstacles is one of the most dangerous tasks on a battlefield, said British Warrant Officer Robert Kemp.

“Any breach like this will have enemy weapons trained in on the area,” Kemp said. “Roboticizing breach operations takes away the risk of life and makes clearing enemy obstacles much safer.”

This is great news for the engineers who would otherwise be on the front lines of an assault.

Besides the Terriers, the troops used other roboticized systems, such as an unmanned M113 armored personnel carrier, to deliver walls of thick, white smoke to help cloak the breaching operation.

Although troops have been using unmanned vehicles — especially drones — for decades, the use of the robotic systems at the demonstration was new to most of the troops involved.

“When I first came in, I didn’t expect to be seeing robots doing (combat operations) like this. Being able to see it, eyes on, shows me what the future is going to be like, and it’s pretty good,” Derosin said.

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