Israel deploys robots to clear Hamas tunnels

Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system isn’t the only high-tech hardware the country’s military is deploying in its latest fight against the Islamist militant group Hamas in Gaza.

Israel Defense Forces have for the first time deployed an unmanned ground vehicle known as the Micro Tactical Ground Robot made by Tel Aviv-based Roboteam to scour underground tunnels for Hamas-controlled weapons caches and command posts, according to a Defense News article.

The portable, remote-controlled system weighs about 20 pounds and has a maximum speed of 2 miles per hour, range of about 1,600 feet and battery life of four hours. Outfitted with five cameras, an internal microphone and infrared laser pointers, the machine can collect and relay encrypted information.

The company’s website touts that the ISR model “is currently used by Special Forces, tactical and urban warfare units.”

Roboteam, which has a U.S. subsidiary based in Bethesda, Maryland, earlier this month won a competition to build more than 100 of the units — just a couple of weeks into Israel’s ground assault into Gaza, known as Operation Protective Edge, according to the report.

A spokeswoman for the company in the U.S. didn’t immediately respond to a telephone request seeking more information about the product.

The three-week-old conflict between Israeli and Palestinian fighters has killed more than 1,000 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, while Israel has lost almost 50 soldiers, according to an article in The Washington Post, citing United Nations figures.

The fighting shows no signs of abating. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday warned of a protracted battle. “We will not finish the mission, we will not finish the operation, without neutralizing the tunnels,” he said in a televised address, the Post reported.

Under a $16 million, 40-month project with the Pentagon’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office, Roboteam will supply 100 of the units to special operations forces and EOD technicians, and another 35 units to domestic agencies, according to the office’s website.

Users include Army Special Operations Command, Naval Special Warfare Command, FBI-Hostage Rescue Team, Border Patrol Special Operations Group, Marine Corps Combat Engineer Schoolhouse, Joint Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Fire Department of New York, according to the office’s website.