Sandia LabNews

Remotely controlled guns guarding Y-12 high-security sites

Remotely controlled guns guarding Y-12 high-security sites

At the NNSA’s Y-12 complex in Tennessee, automated gunmen are pulling guard duty at some of the site’s most secure facilities. The robotic gun turrets are controlled remotely by security officers from the safety of a control room.

Sandia developed the Y-12 systems, called Remotely Operated Weapon Systems (ROWS), in partnership with Precision Remotes Inc. of California, which invented the systems.

The work was done for DOE’s Office of Security and Safety Performance Assurance to create automated defense systems to help human security officers protect DOE and NNSA high-security facilities and high-risk materials from armed adversaries.

Sandia’s job was to modify the systems for NNSA applications and evaluate the systems in security settings against mock adversaries, says 6422 Manager Steve Scott.

Each ROWS uses a suite of electronic linear actuators to quickly and precisely aim automatic or semi-automatic rifles at a target. It is commanded remotely by a person in a control station using cameras, scopes, and other sensors.

Unlike a human, the ROWS doesn’t get fatigued, and its accuracy isn’t affected by tremor, trigger anticipation, gun recoil, or shooter fatigue. Its accuracies approach and sometimes exceed those of the best human snipers.

Out of harm’s way

Because ROWS is controlled remotely by someone who isn’t in the line of fire, better decisions can be made about when to shoot, says Steve.

“It removes some of the stress of the situation, which leads to better decisions,” he says.

Other advantages include the ability to respond to multiple threats and locations from one command center; immunity of the system to biological, radiological, chemical, and other environments; and increased firepower with reduced costs. For safety, two people are required for operation of a ROWS system.

During evaluations at Sandia, developmental ROWS systems were installed at Sandia locations, and trained operators practiced using them against a variety of threats and scenarios.

Sandia also modeled use of ROWS systems on the Joint Conflict and Tactical Simulator (JCATS), a computer program that estimates the delay imposed on an adversary by an added security feature.

In many of the simulations, ROWS systems improved the accuracy of the operators and provided additional delay, giving human responders a better chance at stopping or repelling their adversaries, says Steve.

The Y-12 system is the first deployment of a ROWS system in the nuclear weapons complex. Sandia is assisting in the development of ROWS for DoD applications as well.