Whatever happened to the “urban combat skateboard”?

Happened across this pic while browsing. Here’s the caption:

LCPL Chad Codwell, from Baltimore, Maryland, with Charlie Company 1st Battalion 5th Marines, carries an experimental urban combat skateboard which is being used for maneuvering inside buildings in order to detect tripwires and sniper fire. This mission is in direct support of Urban Warrior ’99.

An. Urban. Combat. Skateboard.

Laugh, if you want, but it’s the only FCS vehicle to be fielded so far.

I also see it was “experimental”. This must have been in DARPA’s lean years. Was this was before COTS? Back when the military shopped at rummage sales?

And I’m fuzzy on this whole “detecting trip wires and snipers” tactic, here. I mean, I’m sure you’d detect them, all right. I’m no military strategist, but you don’t need a skateboard to set off booby-traps and get shot at.

…you go to war with the skateboard you have, not the skateboard you want.

I can see it now: “Lance Corporal, go see if that hallway is rigged to blow. Yeah. Just roll down it. Fast. Ever see ‘Behind Enemy Lines‘? You’ll outrun the explosions, just like Owen Wilson did in the movie. And draw any sniper fire, while you’re at it…”

It doesn’t appear to be armored, though, and I can already hear Rummy going on about how you go to war with the skateboard you have, not the skateboard you want. Which is too bad, because there are some real bitchin’ decks out there this year. (The board this Marine has is not one of them.)

And I’m glad he’s equipped with MILES, because I suspect high opportunity for accidental discharge when he goes down hard. Or maybe they don’t even issue him ammunition. He’s just going to spending all his time dodging tripwire-activated bombs until some sniper gets him.

Another site which offers a huge version of the pic notes that the Marine is wearing the MOUT-T uniform. I was unfamiliar with this scheme, but if you look closely, you can see some darker bars and a mid color in there, as well. I know it’s hard to make out, as this Marine is practically invisible dressed like that.

No doubt this set off yet another round of “wheels vs. tracks” debates within the Pentagon. And as it’s a piece of Marine equipment, the lack of amphibious capability was certainly a major drawback.

To be honest, if that photo and caption hadn’t come from the DoD I’d think it was a joke. I almost should go check Snopes on this one. Does anyone have any info on the urban combat skateboard? Murdoc looked around a bit but got bupkis.

UPDATE: A few more points:

A) After issuing the orders to the LCPL, the LT turns to someone with a radio and says “Get hold of battalion and tell them we’re going to need another Lance Corporal with a skateboard…

B) It occurs to me that we cannot see the other side of the board. For all we know there is $237 million worth of gear bolted on.

C) This was, of course, 1999. Mission creep on the Urban Combat Skateboard program has resulted in the UCS Mk 2:

D) The UCS Mk 1 (in the original picture) is still in use. But the prototypes were from a rummage sale and most street versions are made in China. Luckily, some Congressman or another has a skateboard factory in his district and the military now buys Mk 1s for a mere $899 apiece.

–cross-posted to Defense Tech

UPDATE: More here.


  1. I would guess that the skateboard is deployed by laying chest down and slowly crawling forward at trip-wire level so as to spot trip wires and other obvious signs of traps. This also has the effect of distributing the force of the explosion from any detonated explosives along the entire length of the body. Perhaps that is an unintended consequence.

  2. Read a post a few years ago about Radio controlled toy trucks being used in houses to ‘trip’ any booby traps. Don’t remember where I saw it, it might be urban legend or fact. Papa Ray West Texas USA

  3. Fellers, I suspect that the way it’s used is simply to open the door, place the skateboard on the floor, and give it a push to see if it snags anything. Since it’s weighty enough and thick enough, the board would trip both wires and any electronic motion detectors. Neat idea as well….. Respects, AW1 Tim

  4. Wouldn’t that fail to detect any tripwires more than a few cm/in above the floor level? If I was setting a tripwire I’d put it at shin level… Maybe there’s some kind of special springloaded stick which allows it to trip wires mounted higher than the deck of the board. ‘Screw Semper Fi…. COWABUNGA!!!’

  5. Ok MO, admit it. Your computer is screwed up, you looked at the date, thought it was April 1st, and decided to have a laugh. But knowing the government, we’re probably looking at a picture of a skateboard in the $50K range. Damn, I love paying taxes!

  6. Yes, but how many skateboards do you know which can pull off a Misty-flip 720 over a pile of burning tyres while carrying a fully combat loaded infantryman? That takes a high-tech carbon-fibre reinforced whammyboard mated to dry lubricated titanium wheels with tiny built-in motors! The bad guys won’t know what hit ’em. Seriously. They’ll just see a green blur. OK, I admit it, I just made that up… all of it.

  7. Actually lets get serious for a second. There are problems with this design. Here’s what you need to do with it. 1. The wheels are wrong. Make them 80 durometer, not the 96 durometer rock hard whites. Urban environments are guaranteed rock strewn, last thing a sniper wants is to be thrown down on his own gun. 2. The deck is wrong, this is a double kick flip, narrow deck. What you need here is a wide deck, with a single kick. You want stability and speed on the flats so you can aim your weapon. 3. Finally the thing should have rails on the bottom so it will be easy to carry or load up in your backpack. Sk8 or die.

  8. While well intentioned, most of the preceding posts have ignored a basic problem with the ‘Combat Rolling Assault Personnel System’ (CRAPS) program. It’s implmentation on a wide basis within our military is now in serious doubt after an extensive review of the programs design goals and performance bench marks. As noted by other, more ‘board proficient’ posters in this forum, the CRAPS suffers from a seriously flawed design. As currently configured, the system does not allow operators to perform certain mission essential combat manuvers (e.g. 760 degree multiple target whirlaround, stairway deathslide, or the infamous ‘holyshit’ spin and half twist). Retrofitting or redesigning the CRAPS will likely cost additional millions in tax payer R & D funds. Additonal significant problems arose during the testing and evaluation phase. Most of the GI testers ‘crashed & burned’ heavily early on in the program. Significantly lengthening the T & E phase, and causing pronounced reluctance by the remaining testers to risk their life and limbs in further testing. Brad Spatt, CRAPS Assisistant Deputy Program Manager, stated the program may resort to more highly skilled contractor testers who’ve substantial previous experience with this type of improved mobility device. Interested drug and alcohol free applicants with a minimum of body piercings and ‘tats’ should contact Mr. Spatt ATEC. CRAPS is also suffering from system bulk and weight issues; due to the military requesting additional ‘bells & whistles’ (e.g. anti IED blast shields, RPG cages, coffee brewing station, etc) be added. While retrofitting the system with lighter weight (carbon fiber, boron epoxy, titanium, ceramic etc) components might bring weight back down, they would do nothing to address performance inhibiting bulk. In short………getting badly needed CRAPS into the hands of our men & women in uniform is once again taking longer than it should.

  9. COTS = COMMERCIAL-Off-The-Shelf, not Common-Off-The-Shelf, or was it Crap-Off-The-Shelf? Yeah, that’s it. Then when it doesn’t work it turns into MCOTS or Modified-Crap-Off-The-Shelf. That’s when those of us in the defense industry really get to stick it to the taxpayer. I love my job.

  10. Dude, He can’t be an actual ‘boarder. He doesn’t have his helmet on backwards….. Respects, AW1 Tim

  11. Holy crap, Murdoc. That’s the funniest piece I’ve read all morning. [deleted] Thanks for the good laugh. Dimitri

  12. I’d say the first picture is fake, and the second one accurate. The whole idea of a skateboard without a transom flap is just silly.

  13. Ok, We need to go get some serious combat skateboard decks and perhaps we can mount lazer guns on the bottom instead of rails. Any ideas? -The KABMAN