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60 MPH, With a Gun and No Driver

That's the Ripsaw MS1, a tracked unmanned ground vehicle that no less than Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, called "an amazing piece of gear" this morning. The Ripsaw may be one of those development programs that lawmakers can use to justify earmarks. It was funded by an earmark worth about $1 million pushed through by GOP Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine. The vehicle is on display for the first time at the Army Science Conference here in Orlando.

Built by twin brothers, Geoff and Mike Howe of Barwick, Maine, the Ripsaw can careen at high speed over obstacles that would leave a vehicle's crew dazed and bruised. It is operated by a driver in another vehicle using a modular crew station that can be unbolted and placed in a range of Army vehicles, including the Stryker and all the MRAP models.

A weaponised version, modified by the Army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ, includes a remotely operated M240 machine gun. The gun is operated by a separate person using another modular station that can be put in a range of vehicles.

In addition to impressive firepower, the Ripsaw can carry a payload of 2,000 pounds. It is not armored and each track can be removed as a unit should it be damaged, according to Bhavanjot Singh, ARDEC project officer.

Singh and the Howe brothers are eager to find a sponsor to help get the Ripsaw into production, or at least to get some prototypes built and tested in the field.

At least four congressional aides checked out the vehicle at the conference display here and Chiarelli had a tour of his own. Singh was enthusiastic about both the vehicle and its builders.

"They are very good dreamers," he told me.

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