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SCUBAPRO Sunday – Common Dive skills

Sunday, September 19th, 2021

Training like you fight doesn’t mean just having your body armor on when you are on the shooting range, and you should always practice basic skills whenever you get in the water. The best way to become a better diver is to practice and improve on the basic skills constantly. Here are some basic skills you should practice every time you get in the water.


This is one of the most critical skills for every diver to master. Mastering buoyancy is not necessarily a difficult task, but it requires a calm, focused mind and practice. You will consume less air when your buoyancy is on point, and you will not risk shooting to the surface and giving yourself away or, worse, getting injured. To practice your buoyancy, try and be a couple of feet off the bottom of the pool using a body positions simulation to sky diving. Try maintaining the same distance from the bottom and now just using your fins spin to your left, then spin to your right, again holding your positions. Now once you have that, try and move backward, besides just using your fins. This will help you with moving in confined spaces and around piers.


The descent should always be performed slowly and controlled. You will need to equalize the pressure in your ears as you descend constantly; that can mean every 12-18 inches 30-40cm for some divers. Descending too quickly can cause your eardrums to rupture, which can lead to more severe complications. A slow descent will also prevent silting on the bottom, which will decrease visibility. Also, practice your emergency descents. It will be the same as before but faster.  

Clearing Your Mask

At some point, you will get water in your mask. So, it is better to practice in a controlled environment than to have not done it a long time and try and remembered when it is the middle of the night in someplace where you don’t want the water touching your face. If you have water in your mask, follow the clearing techniques you learned in your training. If you need to stop momentarily, alert your buddy so you do not get separated. You should be able to master this essential skill without having to stop. It would help if you also did this, allowing as a minimal number of bubbles as possible. Make sure you practice this when you are learning to use any diver propulsion vehicle.

Emergency Ascents

If you ever find yourself in this situation, you will be happy that you practiced it. It is no different than practicing a down mandrill. Well, other than the fact that you are in the water. Your emergency ascent may require that you share air with your buddy, swim in a controlled manner to the surface, or drop your weights. Practice all types of emergency ascent techniques whenever possible to not panic when a real emergency occurs. Lastly, go over what you would do on the surface if you had to do CPR or render first aid in the middle of nowhere and your dive buddy’s life depends on it.

Hand Signals

Once you start diving with someone, you might come up with some hand signals of your own, like you have your head up, you’re a$$. But the essential hand signals will be used by everyone worldwide. You never know when you will be diving with someone from a partner nation, and that is all you have to go by. So, knowing the basics will help.

Going Up or Down

Use a thumbs-up signal to indicate that you are going up or a thumbs down to indicate the opposite.

I’m OK

Place your thumb and forefinger together, forming a circle, and leave the other three fingers extended upright. This is the same as you would say, OK, as you would above water.


Signal your dive buddy to stop by holding up one hand, the same as you would in any other instance. You can also use a closed fist like being on patrol.

Changing Direction

Just like with up and down, point your thumb (or your index finger) to indicate which direction you’re heading. You can tell again like on land.

Turn Around

To let everyone know it’s time to turn around, put your index finger up and rotate in a circle. Similar to rally-up.

Slow Down

Place your hand in front of you with your palm facing down. Wave your hand up and down to indicate that you need everyone to slow down a bit.

Level Off

To indicate that you want to level off once you’ve reached a certain depth, put your hand out in front of you, palm down, and wave it back and forth.

Something’s Wrong

Place your hand out in front of you, fingers spread and palm down. Wave your hand back and forth in a rocking motion. It is similar to the hand signal, maybe.  


Wave your entire arm from outstretched by your side to over your head. Repeat the motion as long as you need to.

How much air do you have?

With the forefinger and middle finger hit in the palm of your hand to ask your buddy how much air is left in the tank. The usual response is in numbers.

I’m Low on Air

It takes practice to be able to make your air last. Clench your hand into a fist and pull it in toward your chest. Repeat as much as you need to indicate how urgently you need to resurface. When diving a rebreather, you should point at the pressure gauge. With some of the newer rebreathers, you can pull your gauge out and show it to your dive buddy if needed.  

I’m Out of Air

Suppose something has gone wrong with your equipment, signal quickly and repeatedly. Place your hand, palm down in front of your throat, and move back and forth in a cutting motion.

AFWERX Drives Innovation Through Flightline Ops Challenge

Sunday, September 19th, 2021


Innovators and thought leaders from industry, academia and the federal government gathered at the AFWERX Innovation Hub in Las Vegas, Nevada, late last month to review technologies that will be a part of the Revolutionizing Flightline Operations AFWERX Challenge.

This effort is a sequel to last year’s Base of the Future Challenge championed by the Natural Disaster Recovery Program Management Office at Tyndall AFB.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s NDR PMO has worked with AFWERX over the past two years to drive innovation and incorporate new technologies into the rebuild.

This challenge will help shape technologies that have potential for incorporation into the Flightline of the Future.

The team sought to engage individuals, startups, small businesses, large enterprises, academia and research labs to solve problems.

Lowell Usrey, NDR PMO Innovation Branch chief, challenged the cross-functional team to design the challenge.

“We are able to reach companies and innovators who have limited exposure to the Department of Defense and are able to bring new ideas to existing problem sets and that’s cool.” Usrey said.

The recent AFWERX challenge was the culmination of months of planning and a competitive evaluation with hundreds of participants. Solutions offered involved improvements to airfield and aircraft maintenance operations including autonomous technology, enabling data-driven decision-making and integrating advanced, smart airfield surfaces to strengthen the flightline and improve operations.

Developing an automated process to collect airfield surface data and use artificial intelligence to identify surface anomalies and damage is revolutionary, Usrey said. It would allow airfield managers to persistently monitor and track flightline conditions and plan more efficiently.

“It was exciting to collaborate on ways to leverage technology for our day-to-day work and overall mission on the airfield,” said Maj. Kayley Squire, Tyndall AFB airfield operations flight commander. “The solutions that surfaced are remarkable — and it was made even more rewarding by being able to show our Airmen that innovation and change is possible.”

The automated processes developed at the AFWERX Challenge can also improve aircraft maintenance operations.

“The technology shown during the AFWERX Challenge will completely transform aircraft maintenance operations,” said Lt. Col. Yogi Lebby, Advanced Concepts chief. “These new modernizing solutions will allow maintainers to be more proactive, document more effectively and drive efficiencies back into a maintainer’s day. The future is now and I’m excited to be part of the journey.”

Together with airfield operations and maintenance, flightline security was another focus of breakout sessions to identify areas for improvement.

Security tactics, techniques and procedures that were developed in a time when advanced technology was not available were discussed. To counter 21st century security concerns, modern solutions were shaped by the group. Proposed solutions included using some of the same technologies as airfield maintenance, like smart pavements, to help augment security operations. Facial recognition, detectable flightline access badges and other technologies could be incorporated into flightline features like pavements and lights to identify individuals on the flightline.

Because base defense is manpower intensive and subject to human error, incorporating technologies that shorten response times were discussed since they can more effectively counter any intrusion.

“The efforts of the entire team have set the stage for remarkable capabilities that will outlive their time within their current occupation,” said Maj. Jordan Criss, 325th Security Forces Squadron commander. “It’s setting our future Airmen up for success and honoring the U.S. Air Force tradition of innovation, flexibility and strategic vision.”

Improved communications connectivity across the flightline and integrated processes were also recommended to improve flightline operations.

Because some Air Force procedures have not always kept pace with technology, improved communications and integrated processes can help manage workflow, optimize aircraft scheduling and establish better supply linkages, Usrey said.

“Having civil engineers and airfield operations working together to tackle common issues we face on the airfield with new and innovative solutions was truly something special,” said Lt. Col. Robert Bouffard, a Pentagon executive officer. “They all had the common goal of increasing mission effectiveness.”

AFWERX is a collaborative structure — partially based on the structure of Air Force Special Operations Command – that gives the Air Force a way to reach out and engage with businesses, organizations and academia around the world.

By Don Arias, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Public Affairs

Answering the Call: Special Tactics Airmen Conclude Haiti Earthquake Relief Efforts

Saturday, September 18th, 2021

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla.– Special Tactics Airmen assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing concluded their response to augment humanitarian aid efforts in Haiti on Sept. 2, 2021 following a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, which hit the country Aug. 14.

            The Special Tactics Airmen were alerted on the morning of Aug. 16 that they would augment Joint Task Force-Haiti relief efforts. With the help of  C-146A Wolfhound aircrews, assigned to the 492nd and 919th Special Operations Wings, the team touched down in Port Au Prince, Haiti within 36 hours.

            “We landed at Port Au Prince and were pretty removed from the epicenter of the earthquake, but once we got out to certain areas that had been cut off by the earthquake and seeing the MEDEVAC patients coming in at Port Au Prince that were suffering from crush injuries…it definitely hit home,” said the Special Tactics Officer and lead for the ST response team. “It peaked our awareness for the severity of the situation and need for assistance. It made us eager to get out to the landing zones for us to start doing our part and hopefully establish an airfield so we could bring out more supplies to those people.”

            The Special Tactics team, consisting of five combat controllers and one pararescueman, were primarily responsible for surveying Jeremie and Les Cayes airfields for suitability of landing fixed wing aircraft. The airfields were located in parts of the country that had been cut off by landslides and damaged roads from a storm following the earthquake. The operators quickly assessed the landing zones, conducted a proof of concept by successfully landing a C-146A at one of the airfields and made recommendations to JTF-Haiti. However, while performing this task, the Special Tactics team was strategically positioned and equipped to assist in an emergency scenario.

            “While we were conducting our survey at Les Cayes, some [non-government organization] members came up to us and mentioned there were some patients a 10 minute flight away in the mountains,” said the STO. “There were two children with crush injuries that needed to get medical attention immediately and we were able to dynamically task our forces at that survey site to coordinate with JTF-Haiti, the aircrew and work with the NGO to find the exact location of those patients and evacuate them to a higher level of care.”

            In addition to being positioned and ready for medical evacuations, the team worked to assist Haitian air traffic controllers providing advisory calls in different areas and assisted with deliveries of humanitarian aid supplies in more than 10 remote locations across the country.

            “You see the kids running up and obviously they’re excited to see you and to see the U.S. military because they know we’re going to help,” said the STO. “I’m super thankful for the opportunity and proud that my team was a part of it and that we were able to do a multitude of things to help get the aid and supplies needed to the people of Haiti.”

            The humanitarian mission also served as a training opportunity for the team in interoperability and how to collaborate with several organizations trying to achieve the same goal by maximizing everyone’s capabilities.

            “It was a very educational experience working alongside not only joint partners from the DOD, as well as USAID, the lead agency for the relief efforts,” said the STO. “We got to learn what they did and they got to learn what we do. The big takeaway for Special Tactics is our flexibility and the different capabilities we bring to a problem set like humanitarian aid disaster relief. We were there to conduct surveys and were prepared to establish airfields, receive aircraft, land them and deliver supplies in an expeditious manner. When circumstances changed, we were able to conduct a MEDEVAC as well as go out alongside other entities and help facilitate their mission using our tools and capabilities. We were able to be pretty dynamic.”

            In recent years, Special Tactics Airmen alongside other Air Force Special Operations Command units have responded to several natural disasters including Hurricanes Eta and Iota in Honduras, Hurricane Michael in Florida and Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana.

             Special Tactics Airmen train constantly to execute global access, precision strike, personnel recovery and battlefield surgery operations across the spectrum of conflict and crisis. As experts in air-ground integration, ST Airmen have the ability to assess, open, and control major airfields to clandestine dirt strips as well as lead complex rescue operations in any environment.

For more information on Air Force Special Tactics visit our website,

By By Capt Alejandra Fontalvo, 24th SOW, PAO

FirstSpear Friday Focus: Summit Bags

Friday, September 17th, 2021

Get your gear squared away. Enter FirstSpear Summit Bags. They’re American made with a zipper closure. FirstSpear summit bags are ultralight, extremely durable and feature a wide variety of sizes. From small (1 liter) to 2XL (56 liters), there’s a summit bag to fit all your gear needs. They also come in a tough 70-denier ripstop material or a mesh that allows your gear to breathe. Colors include orange, black, manatee and coyote.

Also available are the Padded Summit Insert is built to fit directly into your existing summit bags the padded insert is a high-density low profile foam designed to fit perfectly inside your summit bag and offers padding to help protect sensitive items during transport while inside another larger pack or bag.

The sky’s the limit on applications. From organizing inside larger bags or packs, hauling loose rounds, storing electronics or simply keeping gear organized and easy to grab, summit bags have you covered.

• Small (1 liter) – 4″ x 4″ x 4.5″
• Medium (2 Liter) – 4″ x 4″ x 9″
• Large (7 Liter) – 6″ x 6″ x 12″
• XL (11 Liter) – 6″ x 10″ x 12″
• 2XL (56 Liter) – 12″ x 12″ x 24″

For more information check out

Teaching the Commando New Tricks

Friday, September 17th, 2021


The C-130J is an incredibly versatile aircraft, and since it’s creation, it’s landed on rough fields, in arctic locations and even an aircraft carrier Yet, it cannot land on water, which covers about 71% of the planet. As national strategic objectives shift focus to littoral regions, Air Force Special Operations Command is advancing new approaches to expand the multi-mission platform’s runway independence and expeditionary capacity.

In partnership with the Air Force Research Lab’s Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (AFRL-SDPE) directorate, AFSOC is developing an MC-130J Commando II Amphibious Capability (MAC) to improve the platform’s support of seaborne special operations. “The development of the MAC capability is the culmination of multiple lines of effort,” said Lt Col Josh Trantham, AFSOC Science, Systems, Technology, & Innovation (SST&I) Deputy Division Chief. “This capability allows the Air Force to increase placement and access for infiltration, exfiltration, and personnel recovery, as well as providing enhanced logistical capabilities for future competition and conflict.”

The development of a removable amphibious float modification for an MC-130J would enable “runway independent” operations, which, according to Trantham, would extend the global reach and survivability of the aircraft and Air Commandos. “Seaborne operations offer nearly unlimited water landing zones providing significant flexibility for the Joint Force,” Trantham said.

Utilizing the MAC capability may provide unlimited operational access to waterways to distribute forces if land assets are compromised. 

“MAC is vital to future success because it will allow for the dispersal of assets within a Joint Operations Area,” said Maj Kristen Cepak, AFSOC Technology Transition Branch Chief. “This diaspora complicates targeting of the aircraft by our adversaries and limits aircraft vulnerability at fixed locations.”

A task force of industry partners are closely collaborating with AFSOC and AFRL-SDPE to bring the vision to life. A five-phase rapid prototyping schedule will lead to an operational capability demonstration in only 17 months while de-risking the concept for a future potential MAC program of record that could field MAC for MC-130Js but also potentially field a similar amphibious capability for other C-130 variants with only minor variations.

AFSOC and private sector counterparts are currently testing MAC prototypes through digital design, virtual reality modeling (VR), and computer-aided designs (CAD) in a virtual setting known as the Digital Proving Ground (DPG), paving the way for digital simulation, testing, and the use of advanced manufacturing for rapid prototyping and physical prototype testing.

According to Trantham and Cepak, the DPG can deliver mission review, aircraft system analysis, design ideation, engineering risk-reduction, virtual reality, concept imagery, feasibility studies, and other deliverables.

“Being able to experiment with existing technology to evaluate design tradeoffs and test a new system before ever bending metal is a game-changer,” Cepak said. “AFSOC is evolving and experimenting in a smart way to reduce technical risk and deliver capability to the field more rapidly and efficiently than before.”

According to Trantham, while the MAC project demonstrates rapid capability development for AFSOC, the Air Force and the Total Force will also benefit.

“We believe MAC will be able to be used by our sister services, allies, and partners on various C-130 platforms,” he said. “Further, expanding the operational use of an amphibious aircraft alongside other innovative tools will provide even more complex dilemmas in future battlespaces for our strategic competitors.”

By SSgt Brandon Esau, AFSOC Public Affairs

Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Visits ShOC-N Battlelab

Thursday, September 16th, 2021

The Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, Gen. David Allvin, visited the 505th Command and Control Wing’s Howard Hughes Operations, or H2O, facility in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada, Aug. 28. 

H2O is part of the 805th Combat Training Squadron’s Shadow Operations Center – Nellis, or ShOC-N.  ShOC-N is the Air Force’s primary Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) Battlelab for experimentation and incubation of new command and control technologies and development of C2 tactics, techniques, and procedures enabling multi-echelon, multi-domain battle management. 

During the Vice Chief’s visit, 505th personnel showcased ShOC-N’s efforts to build a persistent experimentation ecosystem where anyone could come and put hands-on future C2 capabilities.

Assessing the collaboration on display, Allvin said, “The value of developing capabilities in a battle laboratory is immeasurable.  ShOC-N is future-focused but maintains a connection to the warfighter to ensure they are experimenting and incubating useful capabilities at the speed of relevance.”

The ABMS Battlelab is the intersection of technologists, acquisition, and warfighters for direct, credible, and rapid evolution of capabilities. “It is the persistent, iterative nature of the ShOC-N Battlelab that makes it so valuable,” said Lt. Col. David Spitler, ShOC-N commander. 

“Every activity has to count,” said Col. Frederick Coleman, 505th CCW commander. “Every day, USAFWC [U.S. Air Force Warfare Center] agencies are leading test, experimentation, and training of the most advanced capabilities ever seen. Our job is to leverage each opportunity and find ways to use it to advance ABMS.  It’s an iterative process that allows us to rapidly test, train, and deliver C2 capability, and the ShOC-N is the nexus of that process.”

The VCSAF’s visit was a joint engagement with AFWERX, which is also located in the Howard Hughes complex.  AFWERX is instrumental as a model to discover innovative opportunities both from industry and Department of Defense partners and deliver tangible capabilities to warfighters at speed.

AFWERX already played a key role in helping the 505th CCW find and develop partnerships.

“We literally grew up on their [AFWERX] couch for about 18 months,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Sick, ShOC-N director of innovation. “AFWERX has a proven track record of discovering industry and military talent through their workshops and challenges, transitioning innovative ideas into real capabilities.”

Sick continued, “ShOC-N is a great compliment to what AFWERX is already doing.”

“ABMS is expansive,” said Spitler, “but we have clear lines of effort and specific warfighter requirements that partners can target for focused experimentation within the Battlelab ecosystem, and we know AFWERX has a portfolio of opportunities ripe for experimentation.”

Providing a low barrier to entry into the ABMS Battlelab ecosystem is critical. Approximately 70% of the companies working with AFWERX have no prior government experience.

“Our goal is to allow partners to engage with AFWERX and then walk across the atrium and immediately begin experimentation with ShOC-N,” said Maj. Greg Haverkorn, ShOC-N director of systems and communications.  “We can provide an unclassified environment with access to warfighters and warfighting data in order to quickly start the maturation process.”

“When ready, ShOC-N can help match product owners with the required cybersecurity and accreditation professionals to move the capability into an appropriate operationally relevant experimentation environment such as the ShOC-N primary Battlelab on Nellis Air Force Base,” Haverkorn continued.

The 505th CCW collaborates with the other USAFWC Wings and staff, Air Combat Command, and Headquarters Air Force to showcase the initial persistent Battlelab concept.  The intent is to provide Department of the Air Force leadership a hands-on introduction to the potential of the Battlelab. 

Courtesy of 505th Command and Control Wing (ACC), Public Affairs

Photos by Lt Col David Spitler

USAF Defenders Beta Test New Weapons Qualification Course

Wednesday, September 15th, 2021


Defenders from across the Total Force are currently beta testing a new Air Force security forces weapons qualification course designed to enhance proficiency across the career field.

Developed by the Air Force Security Forces Center, a primary subordinate unit of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, the proposed course will seamlessly instruct, test and evaluate weapons training for the more than 38,000 active duty, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and government civilian security forces members.

Twelve active-duty bases, two Air National Guard bases and one Air Force Reserve base are currently participating in the one-year beta test, which began June 1.

“The weapons qualification course is a forward-thinking effort, focused on enabling Defenders to adapt to a changing operational environment. Together, we will organize, train and equip Defenders to remain the most proficient and ready force,” said Brig. Gen. Roy Collins, Security Forces director and deputy chief of staff for Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection.

“This improved course of fire will allow our Defenders to focus more on weapons proficiency after initial qualification,” Collins added. “Once qualified on any weapon in our inventory, it is imperative to immediately start to build upon proficiency and repetition to create Defenders who are ready to operate in current and future environments.”

The four-block qualification course supports many of the 32 recommendations proposed by the Security Forces Defender NEXT Initiative. One aspect of the new initiative seeks to modify weapons and tactics capabilities with a focus on air base ground defense as a foundational requirement for Defenders across the Total Force.

Although a viable rifle and carbine qualification course is currently in place for security forces, “senior leaders recognized a need for enterprise-level change with an emphasis on continuous and realistic training across the career field,” said Jason Seibel, AFSFC chief of Air Force combat arms at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

The course, in testing, incorporates training on a quarterly basis rather than annual weapons qualification, as is currently the case for Airmen and Guardians in the security forces career field. This transition to proficiency training integrates four blocks of training:

Block 1: Carbine marksmanship fundamentals and simulator training
Block 2: Short-range combat training and shoot, move and communicate skills training
Block 3: Limited visibility engagement training and virtual reality scenario-based training
Block 4: Marksmanship qualification and live-fire proficiency training for select Defenders

“The course provides instructors with what is called a building-block instruction method,” Seibel said. “Each block of training builds on the previous block. Defenders must successfully complete Blocks 1, 2 and 3 before taking the final qualification block. In this way, we develop Airmen from the novice, who graduates basic military training, to the expert Defenders who attend our advanced course, ensuring proficiency throughout their careers.”

Tech. Sgt. George Henry III, 355th Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, which is one of the test sites for the course, said it’s giving the career field a standardized way to accomplish weapons proficiency.

“This new course of fire will be used to pave the way for how Defenders qualify throughout the entire enterprise. Defenders will be shooting, moving and communicating during the entirety of the course,” he said.

Throughout the training, Defenders and combat arms instructors at each of the 15 test sites will provide data and feedback to Seibel and other combat arms training team developers at AFSFC. When beta testing ends May 31, 2022, the AFSFC team will analyze the input from the test sites and finalize the policy guidance with the goal of implementing the course by October 2022.

“This new course … benefits all Airmen who are charged with protecting our assets day and night. Today’s threats are evolving and our Defenders need to as well,” said Staff Sgt. Logan Goode, 355th SFS combat arms instructor. “Our Defenders will become more versatile and agile than ever before, allowing for better base defense and operations abroad.”

Story by Joe Bela, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Public AffairsPublic Affairs

Photos by SrA Alex Miller

Small, Mighty Robots Mimic the Powerful Punch of Mantis Shrimp

Tuesday, September 14th, 2021

Robot models the mechanics of the strongest punch in the animal kingdom

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Modeling the mechanics of the strongest punch in the animal kingdom, researchers with U.S. Army funding built a robot that mimics the movement of the mantis shrimp. These pugnacious crustaceans could pave the way for small, but mighty robotic devices for the military.

Researchers at Harvard University and Duke University, published their work in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They shed light on the biology of mantis shrimp, whose club-like appendages accelerate faster than a bullet out of a gun. Just one strike can knock the arm off a crab or break through a snail shell. These crustaceans have even taken on an octopus and won.

“The idea of a loaded spring released by a latch is a staple in mechanical design, but the research team cleverly observed that engineers have yet to achieve the same performance out of a Latch-Mediated Spring Actuator that we find in nature,” said Dr. Dean Culver program manager, U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory. “By more closely mimicking the geometry of a mantis shrimp’s physiology, the team was able to exceed accelerations produced by limbs in other robotic devices by more than tenfold.”

How mantis shrimp produce these deadly, ultra-fast movements has long fascinated biologists. Recent advancements in high-speed imaging make it possible to see and measure these strikes, but some of the mechanics have not been well understood.

Many small organisms, including frogs, chameleons, and even some kinds of plants, produce ultra-fast movements by storing elastic energy and rapidly releasing it through a latching mechanism, like a mouse trap. In mantis shrimp, two small structures embedded in the tendons of the muscles called sclerites act as the appendage’s latch. In a typical spring-loaded mechanism, once the physical latch is removed, the spring would immediately release the stored energy, but when the sclerites unlatch in a mantis shrimp appendage, there is a short but noticeable delay.

“When you look at the striking process on an ultra-high-speed camera, there is a time delay between when the sclerites release and the appendage fires,” said Nak-seung Hyun, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and co-first author of the paper. “It is as if a mouse triggered a mouse trap, but instead of it snapping right away, there was a noticeable delay before it snapped. There is obviously another mechanism holding the appendage in place, but no one has been able to analytically understand how the other mechanism works.”

Biologists have hypothesized that while the sclerites initiate unlatching, the geometry of the appendage itself acts as a secondary latch, controlling the movement of the arm while it continues to store energy. But this theory had not yet been tested.

The research team tested this hypothesis first by studying the linkage mechanics of the system, then building a physical, robotic model. Once they had the robot, the team was able to develop a mathematical model of the movement. The researchers mapped four distinct phases of the mantis strike, starting with the latched sclerites and ending with the actual strike of the appendage. They found that, indeed, after the sclerites unlatch, geometry of the mechanism takes over, holding the appendage in place until it reaches an over-centering point and then the latch releases.

“This process controls the release of stored elastic energy and actually enhances the mechanical output of the system,” said Emma Steinhardt, a graduate student at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and first author of the paper. “The geometric latching process reveals how organisms generate extremely high acceleration in these short duration movements, like punches.”

The device is faster than any similar devices at the same scale to date.

“This study exemplifies how interdisciplinary collaborations can yield discoveries for multiple fields,” said co-author Dr. Sheila Patek, professor of biology at Duke University. “The process of building a physical model and developing the mathematical model led us to revisit our understanding of mantis shrimp strike mechanics and, more broadly, to discover how organisms and synthetic systems can use geometry to control extreme energy flow during ultra-fast, repeated-use, movements.”

This approach of combining physical and analytical models could help biologists understand and roboticists mimic some of nature’s other extraordinary feats, such as how trap jaw ants snap their jaws so quickly or how frogs propel themselves so high.

“Actuator architecture like this offers impressive capabilities to small and lightweight mechanisms that need to deliver impulsive forces for the Army,” Culver said. “But I think there’s a broader takeaway here – something the engineering community and defense research can keep in mind. We’re not done learning about mechanical performance from nature and biological systems. Things we take for granted, like a simple sprung actuator, are still ripe for further investigation at many scales.”

By U.S. Army DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory Public Affairs