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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 18, 2006

Military teams test safe ways to stop vehicles

By William M. Welch
USA Today

Two teams of military engineers competed to come up with a solution to a problem U.S. troops face daily in Iraq how to stop civilian vehicles that blunder past checkpoints without destroying the vehicles or killing their occupants.

Major Gen. Ted Bowlds, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, said that after a little refinement, the teams' devices probably will be used in Iraq.

"These young researchers have come up with some pretty good, innovative ideas," Bowlds said. "My guess is, based on what I've seen, bits and pieces of what we've found here will find their way out there (to Iraq) in some fashion."

On a test range in the Arizona desert last month, Air Force Research Laboratory engineers used remote-controlled automobiles and high-speed cameras to test four devices they designed to halt oncoming traffic by nonlethal means.

A team of junior officers and civilian military engineers from Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico was declared the winner for a pair of devices that literally lift an onrushing car off the ground, bringing it to an almost instant stop from a speed of 35 mph.

Bowlds said the Kirtland team's devices might be used in combination with elements of the designs produced by the competing team from Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

The teams of six engineers and scientists, all with less than five years of military experience, were given six months and $60,000 to come up with prototypes to help solve a frequent problem on the ground in Iraq.

Hundreds of cars and pickups pass through U.S. military checkpoints every day. Civilians have been injured and killed when they failed to stop as requested and were fired on.

Troops trying to halt such vehicles are told to shoot at the engine block to disable the car, and if they miss, "they might hit something more important," said Capt. Chris Rehm, leader of the winning team from Kirtland.

"We're looking for some kind of nonlethal device we could give them," he said.

The teams came up with relatively similar solutions, despite working without knowing what the other was doing, said Mark Lewis, chief scientist of the Air Force.

The two devices that won were tested on sedans, an SUV and a van typical civilian vehicles encountered by troops in Iraq.

The devices:

  • A wooden wedge placed in the roadway with barricades channeling traffic directly to it. If the vehicle does not stop and strikes the wedge, it is lifted up and slides to a stop, leaving the wheels of the vehicle off the ground and its undercarriage resting on the wooden wedge.

  • A "sled" consisting of two low-lying aluminum boxes with air bags inside and grappling hooks at one end. When a vehicle passes over it, a soldier controlling the checkpoint can remotely activate the device, causing the hooks to latch to the front bumper and the airbags to deploy. The car is lifted off the ground by the airbags as the device drags along underneath the vehicle.

    The competition occurred at a proving ground near Sierra Vista, Ariz., operated by Raytheon.

    The southern Arizona site was selected both to replicate Iraqi conditions and because the facility is a hub for the development of vehicles operated by remote control. Because the stops can be violent, the military did not want to use manned vehicles.