Skid steer loaders are finding a new life, sort of, as mine-clearing robots in Afghanistan.

ON DUTY Standard issue skid steer (top) is beefed up for mine detection in Afghanistan.

An Ocala, Fla., company, Marion Metal Works Inc., is working on a $1.2-million contract to convert six LS125 units from New Holland Construction Co., Carrol Stream, Ill., into military machines called Enhanced Mini-Flails. The modified machines feature a rotating drum with flapping chains in place of a bucket, armor plating, foam-filled tires, steel treads and remote control. Its job is to give new definition to "the beaten path" by slapping the ground with chains and detonating anti-personnel mines.

Marion built similar machines for use in Bosnia and Kosovo, in the former Yugoslavia, but this version, equipped for Afghanistan's high altitude and rough terrain, features a larger radiator, a transmission cooler and a 22.2-hp Yanmar engine rather than the earlier 17 hp. "They needed more oomph, and 17 wasn't doing it," says Lee Pontius, co-owner of Marion Metal Works.

Duane Gotvald, deputy project manager, unmanned ground vehicles, at the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal in Redstone, Ala., says the first of the new units are ready for shipment. He says the machines set off about 90% of the mines they pass and are followed up by hand-sweepers and trained dogs.

"It's for securing ground you have already taken," Gotvald says. The remote control gives it a range of about 500 meters and its small size gets it into places larger versions, made from modified tanks, cannot go. It can handle the shrapnel from anti-personnel mines, but not an anti-tank mine, Gotvald says. "Machines are replaceable, soldiers are not," he notes.

"The nice part about making this, is this piece of equipment saves peoples' lives," Pontius says. "When you are in military contracting, many times you're making things that will kill people. This is refreshing."