Warplanes: June 12, 2002


RoboChoppers Attack- The US Army has moved from cautious curiosity to aggressive expansion of its Unmanned Aerial Vehicle force. It wants unmanned helicopters that can act as sensor platforms, weapons platforms, and resupply vehicles, and preferably two or three of those roles at the same time. Some highlights of new programs.

@ The A-160 Hummingbird is a DARPA project to produce an unmanned helicopter that can fly 2,500 nautical miles over 40 hours and carry 300 pounds of air-to-ground missiles. The Army wants to take over the project in 2003 (years ahead of schedule) in order to ensure that the aircraft ends up being what the Army wants it to be. A production decision would be made around 2006. The A-160 has a 300hp internal combustion engine and a three-bladed rotor. The Army plans to add a tactical common data link in order to receive the aircraft's data and direct its flight and weapons.

@ The Army is modifying two old AH-1 Cobra helicopters into unmanned vehicles, and expects to have them flying next year. They will retain a seat for the pilot. This would allow them to be ferried to the battle area, and to have a safety officer on board when used in wargames and exercises. These will be armed with Hellfire anti-tank missiles, Stinger air-to-air missiles, and 20mm machine cannons. As there are plenty of old Cobras being retired, these could provide a source for cheap and deadly combat drones.

@ Vigilante is another unmanned combat helicopter. The Army plans to use it to resupply advanced forces, but also wants it to carry Stingers and serve as air-to-air combat platforms.

@ Another unmanned helicopter is in development for the counter-terrorism mission. This may end up being a technology demonstrator whose parts will go into other aircraft.

@ The 101st Airborne Division has a modified UH-60 BlackHawk helicopter which can read the data from UAVs. The Army plans to enhance this design to include the ability to control the UAVs. In some future conflict, a single manned UH-60 might control a dozen armed drones roaming over a battle area spotting, and killing, targets.--Stephen V Cole


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