The only forgiving part of warfare in the Arctic is how mercifully few wars have actually been fought there. However, given both the persistence of climate change and the durability of tensions regarding access to the Arctic, the military is training for the possibility of an end to that cold peace. And part of that training means making sure bomb squad robots can still disable explosive threats at freezing temperatures.
As part of the Arctic Edge 20 exercise in Alaska, joint forces from across the Department of Defense and Canada gathered to tackle the challenges of adapting military equipment designed for hot, dry environments to one that is both cold and wet. This included, more notably, figuring out what it would take to make the Light Weight Purification System work in below-freezing temperatures.
But the work of explosive ordnance detonation in the frozen north is worth a closer consideration.
This minor learning experience, a component of a much larger exercise, featured a remote-control robot delivering a water charge to a suspicious target. Water charges blast a suspected improvised explosive device with water, hoping to soak the electronics and render the weapon nonfunctional. Delivering the water charge by robot is a way to make sure that, should the charge fail, the loss is measured in dollars of robot and not human life.
The target in question was a civilian drone model. It was, by all appearances, a DJI-style quadcopter, the kind specifically banned from military use unless it is used as a target or for counter-drone training exercises.
The hobbyist quadcopter’s inclusion in the exercise suggests that quadcopter-borne IEDs are a low-cost enough threat that the impact from them can be felt anywhere. That the main method for disabling any explosives carried by such a drone involves eminently freezable water is all the more reason to test it outside a combat situation. That the default-white of the plastic frame on the drone’s body blends into the landscape effortlessly, as though it were naturally camouflaged, is just further reason to train against it.
Watch the water charge in action below:
Kelsey Atherton blogs about military technology for C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain, Defense News, and Military Times. He previously wrote for Popular Science, and also created, solicited, and edited content for a group blog on political science fiction and international security.