KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --
"The machine is only as smart as its operator,” said U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Travis Finborg, 8th Civil Engineering Squadron Explosive Ordinance Disposal logistics section chief.
This week, 15 Airmen assigned to the explosive ordinance disposal flight from both Osan Air Base and Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea took the opportunity to train with an instructor from Remotec who taught practical courses on rebuilding and repairing inoperable Air Force medium-sized robots at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Aug. 7-11, 2017.
Remotec, a branch of Northrop Grumman, supplies and maintains AFMSRs and other robots for the Air Force, as well as other services and civil agencies.
Throughout the week, 8th CES EOD members hosted specialist Kimberly Tipton from Clint, Tenn. to teach the advanced course, which provided Airmen with vital maintenance techniques, as well as useful tips and tricks to use when operating the machines.
The human side to robotics
“Although we still call them robots, they have no artificial intelligence,” said Finborg.
The AFMSRs are used as a tool by EOD for a multitude of situations to include detonating improvised explosive devices, examining suspicious packages and clearing unexploded ordinance.
“It’s always beneficial for us to come on site, especially for the number of robots that are here and specific to the military, the turnover rate at a short tour location,” said Kimberly Tipton, Remotec instructor.
Due to normal wear and tear over time, most of the robots at Kunsan have broken down at one point or another. To remain cost effective, the 8th CES EOD opted to host the Remotec instructor rather than sending their 15 Airmen off peninsula.
“The most satisfying part is getting it up and going, identifying the problem then fixing it,” said Finborg. “I’m thrilled, we got the robots working that weren’t and that drastically increases our mission capabilities.”
The training impact
The outcome of the training boosts 8th CES EODs robots more than six-hundred percent overall.
“Without the robots we’re mission incapable and that’s serious for everyone,” said Finborg. “Now because of all the work we accomplished throughout the week we have enough safety buffer to do our mission and be able to do minor repairs without worry.”
The AFMSRs are comprised of various parts that must be assembled in a specific order. Finborg compared the meticulous process to that of work on a vehicle.
“These are modular by design so that if the arm was broken you could send it off to the company to be replaced and in the meantime swap it out with another one,” said Finborg. “We use that method often and have a robot we nicknamed ‘Frankenstein’ because it is made up of parts from other inoperable robots.”
Although the robots are not used every day, they are essential in performing EOD’s crucial mission.
“The biggest take-away from this week is that it gave our Airmen confidence,” said Finborg. “They now know that if they are faced with a situation where they need to repair one of these machines, they know what they are capable of and can get the job done.”