The automated system demilitarizes warheads by cutting them into separate sections, removing foam packs filled with grenades and detaching grenade fuses. Source: Regina ValenzuelaThe automated system demilitarizes warheads by cutting them into separate sections, removing foam packs filled with grenades and detaching grenade fuses. Source: Regina Valenzuela

About 700,000 multiple launch rocket system submunitions have been disassembled or demilitarized at the U.S. Army's Anniston Munitions Center Multiple Launch Rocket System Recycle Facility in Alabama. The stockpile has been safely reduced without human intervention, thanks to a nine-robot automated system with 55 cameras and hundreds of sensors.

The robotic system designed by U.S. Sandia National Laboratories for the U.S. Army can decommission up to 21 warheads, each containing 644 grenades, per eight-hour shift. Use of the commercial-off-the-shelf, customized and preprogrammed robots relieves personnel from a hazardous task, speeds the processing of obsolete munitions and facilitates recycling of aluminum warhead skins from rockets, steel from grenade bodies and other components.

The nine-cell robotic system cuts warheads into their separate foam-packed sections, removes grenades from foam enclosures and defuses them, rendering the weapons harmless. To do this, the robots need to be able to move and rotate the packs and munitions precisely.

The robots are overseen by human operators who use computer vision to detect anomalies during the demilitarization process and to determine if there is a safety concern.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com