Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Trojan IED clearance fact file

Trojan armoured engineer tank

UK troops in Afghanistan have launched a new weapon to clear safe paths through areas littered with the Taliban's booby trap roadside bombs.

The Trojan armoured tank and its Python mine clearance system have been used for the first time in the ongoing Operation Moshtarak in southern Helmand province where troops' progress has been slowed by the number of deadly Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs, left by insurgents.

More than 60% of international soldiers who died in Afghanistan last year were killed by IEDs - including a number of explosives experts sent in to defuse them by hand. The Trojan system is designer to reduce that initial risk.

How the Trojan and Python system works

The Trojan is a heavily armoured and accessorised version of the Challenger tank.

It's going to change the dynamic of the campaign
Lt Col Matt Bazeley

Heading a convoy, the Trojan can approach a mined or booby-trapped area and fire its trailer-mounted Python rocket.

A hose filled with explosives attached to the rocket falls to the ground and is detonated - neutralising or destroying most of the IEDs along a pathway of 183-230 metres long and 7.3m wide.

The Trojan, with mine plough attached to the front, can then follow the hose's path, pushing aside any unexploded devices, but leaving safe path for troops and vehicles following behind.

Staff Sergeant Mark Eastley, from 30 Armoured Engineer Squadron serving in Afghanistan, told the MoD website seeing the system put into effect takes your breath away.

"You feel the vehicle rock, and in awe of what has just happened. You see the flash, hear the bang, and then feel the shock wave."

Aerial footage of Python being used to clear area of IEDs (Crown Copyright)

Military commanders hope that the rocket system and mine plough will force the Taliban onto the back foot.

Lieutenant Colonel Matt Bazeley who oversaw the use of Python, believes it will change the dynamic of the campaign.

"The Taliban are going to have to react to us, not the other way around. We now have the capacity to crack through IED belts," he told the MoD website. "In the past, it was painstaking."

The MoD says any unexploded devices discovered and pushed aside by the plough can be made safe by bomb disposal teams ahead of locals returning to the area.

The Trojans also have an excavating arm and can carry and deposit fascines - large bundles of tubing that can be placed in holes, canals or anti-tank ditches.

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