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Unmanned helicopter and other goodies for future use

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  • Unmanned helicopter and other goodies for future use

    Aviation Week & Space Technology Login|Subscribe |Register
    Electronic Attack Targets Elusive Foes
    By David A. Fulghum
    11/07/2004 02:41:04 PM


    Aerospace researchers are unveiling unmanned helicopters, microwave weapons and tactics that U.S. Army aircraft must use to survive as they are pushed down to low altitudes in daylight to attack a new lineup of hard-to-find targets.

    At the top of the Army's list of threats are low-power radios and cellphones that are hard to detect and decipher but that allow groups of irregular fighters to communicate and coordinate their attacks. Like the U.S. Air Force, the Army wants to incorporate electronic surveillance, analysis and attack into its small-unit arsenal of weapons.

    The technical strategies used also hint at how industry is trying to cope with the Army's chronic budget problems and its on-again, off-again love affair with aviation. The service is wavering, for example, in its funding of the Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft (UCAR). Meanwhile, industry is offering what could be either an early segue to UCAR or a far less expensive alternative with many of its capabilities.

    Industry also is showing prototypes of directed-energy weapons, including portable lasers and--more importantly as airborne weapons--small, high-power microwave (HPM) devices that can be carried by relatively small unmanned aircraft and helicopters.

    Senior officials, such as Waldo F. Carmona, Boeing's director of Advanced Army and Rotorcraft Systems, are predicting "exciting" developments in HPM technology during the next 12-18 months as researchers push directed-energy weapon payloads down to 1,000 lb., the magic number that makes them viable for carriage on unmanned aircraft.

    Carmona also revealed that Boeing's unmanned version of the Little Bird helicopter is flying and suggested that carrying an HPM weapon would be a useful role, along with surveillance, supply, and search and rescue in areas behind enemy lines.

    Germany's Diehl was at the recent Washington meeting of the Assn. of the U.S. Army showing a man-portable HPM device that offers what company officials say is a cheaper route to fielding such weapons.

    The suitcase-size version of the CS-110 HPM system can destroy electronic modules (including those in surveillance systems or vehicles), generate resets in computer processors, induce power latch-ups, jam radios or disable infrared or proximity fuses, says Michael Sporer, business manager for HPM new products. He also points out that hardening against nuclear-explosion-produced electromagnetic pulses doesn't work because of different rise times in the power spikes. It can help protect convoys against remotely triggered weapons out to 75 meters. Using flat-plate or corner reflectors, it can focus the beam of energy into a 45-deg. swath.

    To this point, most HPM weapons have been designed as high-frequency devices (1-10 GHz.) to attack electronic devices such as radars through their antennas, Sporer says. His product--which uses a 24-volt battery, high-voltage generator and two parallel resonators--operates in the 200-450-MHz. band and targets much smaller 2-10-cm.-long cables and metal framework parts at far less cost than high-frequency devices.

    Critics of these low-frequency devices say their directivity is poor, and they produce large sidelobes that can damage electronics on the vehicles carrying them. High-frequency designs offer more precision and longer ranges when narrowly focused.

    However, those designing high-frequency HPM weapons have yet to produce a system that weighs less than a ton, say those looking for airborne payloads. New technologies such as lithium-ion batteries have solved the power problem for these devices. However, methodologies for cooling the weapon are keeping payload weights high.

    For example, Saft Corp. is offering improved lithium-ion batteries that can offer instantaneous power of 10 kw. from a 3 X 7-in. package. These can be connected to reach the 100-kw. output deemed useful for multiple shots from smaller HPM devices without resorting to the use of capacitors. The increasing interest in directed-energy weapons is measured by government and industry demand for test cells of specific sizes and capabilities to drive prototype electronic weapon designs. Glen Bowling, Saft's director of defense sales, says the cost for the batteries is still high but is expected to drop within a few years to $2,000-3,000 per kilowatt per hour. Research is underway to double the current battery capability in even higher power models in 5-10 years.

    Originally, HPM payloads were eyed for the Unmanned Combat Air System, a stealthy unmanned strike aircraft possibly modeled on Northrop Grumman's X-47 or Boeing's X-45. But as the weapons become more feasible, they are being seen as future payloads for the UCAR helicopter being designed by Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. However, the Army, following a tradition of starving aviation programs, is trying to cut funding.

    Boeing, without making any claims, is operating a modified MD-530F helicopter that can be flown unmanned or by a pilot, and offers much of the UCAR's capability, Carmona says. The "Unmanned Little Bird" made its first flight Sept. 8 and has accumulated 20 hr. as a fully operational UAV. It also has been controlled remotely from the front seat of an AH-64D Apache Longbow.

    Its missions are to include carrying up to a ton of cargo in a sling, launching weapons, surveillance/reconnaissance, communications relay or picking up isolated special operations teams and downed aircrews well behind enemy lines. These are all considered risky missions, as is HPM weapons use, that might best be done by unmanned craft.

    Another mission that might best be done by unmanned aircraft is suppression of enemy air defenses, which could include the use of rapid-fire guns and precision-guided missiles and HPM weapons that attack sensitive electronics on antiaircraft weapons and sensors.

    Manned Little Bird helicopters are already being flown by the Army's special operations forces. In addition, the kit that transforms the Little Bird to a UAV can be installed on any helicopter in the 5,500-lb. range (like the Kiowa Warrior), Carmona says. With larger fuel tanks, the aircraft has a 450-naut.-mi. mission radius and up to 10 hr. endurance, he adds.

    In a parallel effort, the Army has combined the operations of an unmanned Vigilante UAV rotorcraft with a manned UH-1. In December, the Vigilante, again controlled by a UH-1, will demonstrate airborne rocket firings at Yuma (Ariz.) Proving Ground.

    As to future projects, Carmona says he has been challenged by the Army to "unman" a much larger CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter. Two advantages could come from the capability: By eliminating the need for a pilot, resupply missions could continue to be flown even when aviators (who are expected to be in ever shorter supply) have been grounded by the rules for crew rest. In addition, the large carry capability of the CH-47 would make it an ideal platform for bulky payloads such as HPM crowd-control devices being developed for the Marine Corps.

    Being able to survive in a dangerous battlefield environment will be a key consideration for these unmanned systems.

    The ability of the Little Bird to survive will rely on networking to let the operators know when enemy threats are located, low-altitude flying, and suppression of the helicopter's IR signature, Carmona says. To that end, he says he and others will press for improved airspace management and deconfliction regulations so that UAVs can operate effectively and with fewer restrictions at altitudes of 5,000 ft. and less. Aircraft carrying HPM weapons, in particular, are expected to have to close within a half-mile of the target to be effective.

    Farther up in the survivability scale, but with a larger price tag, are the competing UCAR designs. Both will have shapes that offer little radar reflectivity and small IR signatures because of shielded exhaust systems and specialized coatings. Their sound also will be reduced by elimination of the tail rotor, which produces more than half of any helicopter's high-frequency noise.

    The major problem for rotorcraft in avoiding radar is the large, distinct signature from the main rotors. Both designs are expected to have specialized coatings on the rotor blades to absorb radio-frequency energy.

    Northrop Grumman's unique system of two canted rotor masts and counterrotating rotors is designed to provide an extra measure of reduction in radar reflectivity, while a laser-based altimeter is to allow high-speed, nap-of-the-earth flight to take full advantage of terrain masking. The latter design will also do away with ground stations and pump data directly to other aircraft with network links, such as the Apache or ground vehicles.

    To keep costs down, neither of the UCAR concepts is being designed with an active system (of changing color, hue or reflectivity) to keep their daytime visual signature small. However, active surfaces are being considered for inclusion in the Air Force and Navy fixed-wing joint unmanned combat air system (J-UCAS). Currently Northrop Grumman's X-47 and Boeing's X-45 are demonstrators for the concept.
    "They want to test our feelings.They want to know whether Muslims are extremists or not. Death to them and their newspapers."


  • #2
    The USN was actually using armed unmanned helos as early as the 1950s.


    • #3
      nice, Russia's Kamov company has also been plannig to use an unmanned helicopter, it's really small, and has a peculiar shape, pretty cool though, they've had it for a while, let me try to find a picture

      meant for surveillance


      • #4
        i just found a bit more information on Kamov, they also have the Ka-37 unmanned helicopter,

        and check out the V-100

        amazing, 400km top speed, 3000kg payload, supposed to be developed in the 80's, nice
        for MOTHER MOLDOVA


        • #5
          Originally posted by Dima
          ... it's really small, and has a peculiar shape,
          Lol, looks like a flying barbeque...
          "We will go through our federal budget – page by page, line by line – eliminating those programs we don’t need, and insisting that those we do operate in a sensible cost-effective way." -President Barack Obama 11/25/2008


          • #6
            Originally posted by highsea
            Lol, looks like a flying barbecue...
            yes Yes i see so if it breaks down or crashes the Russian army just sets up camp, hunts some bear Add a little beer or vodka and Walhalla Multi function At it's finest-!!