Military Technologies Conference hints at future of small armed UAVs

BOSTON, 15 March 2006. Arming small, portable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could be a major initiative of the future digital battlefield, said a representative of a Belize-based UAV designer at the Military Technologies Conference March 14 in Boston.

Mar 15th, 2006

By John Keller

BOSTON, 15 March 2006. Arming small, portable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could be a major initiative of the future digital battlefield, said a representative of a Belize-based UAV designer at the Military Technologies Conference March 14 in Boston.

These small UAVs, which soldiers could carry into battle in backpacks, are particularly well suited for urban warfare, as well as for difficult terrain such as jungles and mountains, said Maria Pulera, international sales director of the Tactical Aerospace Group (TAG) international sales office in Beverly Hills, Calif.

The Military Technologies Conference, sponsored by Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine, runs through March 15 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.

Pulera pointed to the Hellfire missile-armed Predator UAV, which U.S. forces used with some effectiveness in the global war on terror, as the beginning armed UAVs, and predicted a future involving "non-returning explosive drones" -- essentially flying bombs -- as well as UAVs that fly in tandem as hunter-killer teams, operate as aerial mines, and prowl cities under siege to detect terrorists.

One of the most promising near-term possibilities for arming small UAVs involves the "stacked projectile" technology of Metal Storm Ltd. in Brisbane, Australia, Pulera says. Metal Storm' technology, which is small and light enough for UAVs, is an electronically initiated, stacked projectile system that fires projectiles sequentially from several 40 mm barrels.

The only parts that move in Metal Storm's technology are the projectiles in the barrels. The weapon eliminates the traditional ammunition feed or ejection system, breech opening, or any other moving parts, which with computer control could make a lethal UAV weapon system.

The all-electronic weapon could be remotely controlled by a human operator, or could operate autonomously in a hunter-killer UAV configuration, Pulera says.

Also of interest to armed UAV designers is gun technology from Recoilless Technologies International Corp. (RTI) in Keysborough, Australia. RTI engineers developed conventional ballistic weapons that eliminate recoil -- a quality that could put substantial firepower aboard small UAVs without ill effects on the UAV's flight profile. Pulera says the RTI multipurpose gun pod suitable for UAVs is about the size of an external fuel tank

Other weapon systems applicable to small portable UAVs include the Spike multipurpose anti-tank missile system from RAFAEL Armament Development Authority Ltd. in Haifa, Israel, and the NLAW shoulder-fired missile from Saab Bofors Dynamics in Karlskoga, Sweden.

Pulera outlined a possible future scenario involving small portable UAVs on the battlefield, in which three UAVs launch from a Stryker armored combat vehicle located on the forward edge of a battlefield. Inside the Stryker is a control console and pilot who manipulates the UAVs during their missions.

The Stryker UAV launch vehicle first sends out a "scout" UAV to scan the battlefield, Pulera speculates. The scout locates four enemy tanks in the area, and sends back video to the Stryker vehicle for confirmation.

In response, the UAV controller in the vehicle launches two attack UAVs to engage the tanks, while the scout UAV loiters in the area to record the results of the impending attack. In the process, however, one of the tanks shoots down the scout UAV, but not before the attack UAVs arrive and acquire the tanks as their targets.

The Attack UAVs engage and kill the four enemy tanks with anti-tank missiles and return to the Stryker control vehicle for recover. The result of the mission is one lost scout UAV, with no humans ever stepping into harm's way, Pulera told the Military Technologies Conference attendees.

Tactical Aerospace Group, based on Corozal, Belize, designs and manufactures helicopter UAVs, and develops custom and turnkey UAV systems by integrating flight-control systems, ground-control stations, instrumentation, and payload and sensor technologies. For more information, contact the company online at www.tacticalaerospacegroup.com.

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