The ARTS Goes AirborneARA engineers meet the challenge in helping a robotic utility tractor earn its wings for Operation Iraqi Freedom
Not many types of equipment are designed to be parachuted from 1,500 feet and still work once they hit the ground, but that's what was needed recently by the U.S. Air Force's Air Combat Command. ACC's newly formed Airborne Red Horse teams required specialized tools for force protection and range clearance activities in Southwest Asia, so ARA engineers worked with the Air Force Research Laboratory to rapidly prototype, develop and deliver an airborne version of the All-Purpose Remote Transport System, or ARTS.
The AE-ARTS packaged pre-drop: As Operation Iraqi Freedom began, the Air Force's Airborne Red Horse teams were providing combatant commanders with an airborne airfield assessment and repair capability. These teams are a civil engineer contingency response force that includes firefighters, explosive ordnance disposal technicians and readiness personnel who parachute in to remote and inaccessible airfields or are inserted by air assault helicopters. They require lightweight equipment that can withstand an airdrop and sling-load stresses. ARA worked with AFRL's Materials and Manufacturing Directorate to modify the standard ARTS platform to support these new requirements, creating the Airborne (AE) ARTS.
The standard ARTS, which was designed by ARA and AFRL researchers and shipped to Southwest Asia just after Operation Desert Storm, is a remote-controlled, modified version of a light construction tractor equipped with a suite of tools for accomplishing a variety of missions while reducing risks to personnel. Its Kevlar-reinforced rubber tracks have over 3,000 square inches of contact area, resulting in ground contact pressure of approximately two pounds per square inch. This allows for a low center of gravity and light footprint, which makes the rugged and reliable vehicle the perfect candidate for range clearance operations by minimizing forces that could disturb unexploded ordnance (UXO).
ARA's Vertek Division accomplishes the tractor's robotic conversion, which enables remote operation of all its functions. The standard configuration includes fixed video cameras and digital radios that transmit command signals from the Operator Control Unit to the vehicle, and an independent transmitter/receiver pair communicates audio and video from the vehicle to the OCU. ARA engineers also developed the systems control computer and software package. This first generation ARTS has been used extensively in Southwest Asia and elsewhere around the world to safely and effectively clear UXO and other debris from training ranges, airfields and threat areas.
The AE ARTS was configured with new attachments including a Harley Box Rake system for small area ordnance clearance and a remotely operated enhanced standoff munitions disruption system (E-SMUD) to dispose of small UXO.
ARA engineers also developed and adapted a new laptop computer-based operator control unit for the AE-ARTS with situational awareness and Global Positioning System tracking and locating capabilities. Each system was fitted with a remotely operated clamshell bucket for clearing larger debris and obstacles from airfields and other operating surfaces.
While the AE-ARTS has established its value in Operation Iraqi Freedom for explosive ordnance disposal, active range clearance and debris clearing activities, the standard ARTS continues to be a very adaptable, multipurpose tool that keeps personnel out of harm's way in both contingency and homeland defense missions. ARA engineers are currently adapting it for use in humanitarian demining.