As part of Operation MOSHTARAK the Royal Engineers have deployed an explosive clearance system called Python, towed behind the Challenger derived Trojan Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE).
Clearing mines and IED’s in front of vehicle or foot patrols, called ‘Op Barma’, is usually a painstaking, dangerous and incredibly difficult task, using Vallon handheld detectors. The people who make up Op Barma teams are generally unsung but some of the bravest individual’s one could ever meet. Occasionally an opportunity exists to use more automated methods.
The Python is the replacement for the Giant Viper, in fact, a mid-life upgrade called Giant Viper Mid Life Upgrade (GVMLI) replaced the motor unit and other components. Instead of the parachute system in the Giant Viper, the Python uses a long strip of Velcro (honestly) to retard and straighten the hose as it deploys.
Although seemingly unsophisticated it is very effective. It is nothing more sophisticated than a 228m length of rubber hose, except the hose is filled with high explosive!
Launched using a rocket motor it deploys across the ground to be breached and when it lands the explosive-filled hose detonates, initiating and destroying any mines or IED’s in its path, clearing a safe line approximately 7m wide and 180m long.
The Trojan and Titan (the world’s fastest armoured bridge layer) have been in service with the Royal Engineers for three years and are soon to be joined by the Terrier, a lighter armoured combat engineering vehicle that will replace the Combat Engineer Tractor.
The operation allowed a significant section of wadi north of Patrol Base Wahid to be cleared of IED’s, although the Python provides a breaching, not clearance capability meaning that clearance teams will have to make sure the area is 100% clear. Breaching versus clearance is about the management of risk, breaching means operational tempo can be maintained at an acceptable risk.
Trojan and Python have been in theatre for a while but this is the first public airing of its undoubtedly excellent capabilities and marks an interesting change in approach, in the right location it enables rapid breaching of suspected IED/mine areas with all the operational benefits that this brings.