QUANTICO, Va. – With vehicle-borne bombs and improvised explosive devices causing most of the death and damage in Iraq, U.S. officials are investing in a new generation of counter-terror technology to protect troops patrolling the country's most dangerous regions as well as homeland defenders.
Hundreds of companies, including vendors from Austria, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, France, Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom, descended this week onto Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia to show off new equipment to defend against terrorism’s most lethal weapons. The three-day event — the sixth bi-annual Force Protection Equipment Demonstration — is closed to the general public but gives eager U.S. homeland and military officials a chance to take a look at the latest hardware.
The products include everything from unmanned aerial vehicles to a rifle-sight that allows soldiers to shoot around corners. Live-fire demonstrations at Quantico's firing and demolition ranges are among the exhibits for defensive planners, and other events are being held at the nearby Stafford, Va., Regional Airport.
One product already showing its worth is the Z-Backscatter X-ray system, which can see through vehicles and containers and detect potential explosives inside.
“Instead of having to open the trunk and hope for the best, you can deploy the Z-Backscatter van and it will give a very good depiction to a soldier as to whether that vehicle may contain suspicious material,” said Joe Reiss with American Science & Engineering Inc., a Massachusetts-based X-ray technology firm. Reiss said the military already has bought several units but he’s not allowed to say where they are deployed.
The massive Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle (MRAP) also is on display along with a telescopic camera mast that gives troops a bird’s eye view of any danger ahead.
Robotics also are big at the show. One, the MobileRobots' Seekur autonomous robot, looks like a NASA Mars rover and can patrol large areas for long periods of time in any weather, the company says. General Dynamics also exhibited robotic rovers with military applications.
Several vendors allowed the Marines to put their products to the test. At the Quantico demolition range, explosion mitigation products were hit with upwards of 50 pounds of explosives to prove their mettle. At the firing range a host of bullet-resistant windows, doors and barriers were subjected to live fire from Marine marksmen.
The FPED expo got its start after the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that led to the deaths of 19 U.S. service members. The attack showed the need for new technologies to protect U.S. troops from terrorist attacks.
It has now grown to include more than 600 vendors with about 3,000 products.