K-1200 K-MAX: The K-MAX unmanned helicopter is an intermeshing-rotor commercial cargo rotorcraft built by Kaman Aerospace with a Lockheed-developed autonomous pilotage system in service with the Marine Corps’ unmanned cargo resupply program. The K-MAX is very efficient, able to lift nearly 6,900 pounds—more than its empty weight—and its intermeshing rotors make it stable in flight. Its cruise speed is 92 mph, and its dual rotors are just over 48 feet in diameter. Used extensively in Afghanistan, the K-MAX proved its capability flying supplies to combat units, avoiding risks to convoys or aircrew. Acquisition plans are still pending. For more information, visit lockheedmartin.com or call 302-478-1583.
Maveric: Prioria Robotics has produced one of the smallest UAS in military service for the Army since 2008. The Maveric weighs 2.6 pounds, and its carbon-fiber wings and fuselage, both under 30 inches, roll up into a 6-inch-diameter storage and launch tube. It can also be hand-launched. The Maveric’s components are modular, enabling it to adapt to a variety of missions. Its electric motor enables flights up to 800 feet above ground level, and it cruises 30 mph up to an hour within a 9-mile wireless range. Its cameras operate day or night and provide a 360-degree field of view. For more, visit prioria.com or call 352-505-2189.
MQ-1 Predator: Produced by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) and in service with the U.S. Air Force and CIA since 1995, Predator variants are considered a “Tier II medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system (MALE UAS).” It handles reconnaissance and forward observation missions and carries two AGM-114 Hellfire or Griffin missiles. The MQ-1B Block 10 is the current U.S. production aircraft. An export version is pending sale to the Middle East. The MQ-1B is 27 feet long with a 55-foot wingspan and weighs 2,550 pounds loaded. It stays aloft up to 40 hours at 25,000-foot altitudes and cruises at 80 to 100 mph. For more information, visit ga-asi.com or call 858-312-2810.
MQ-8 Fire Scout: The Fire Scout is a four-bladed rotorcraft providing the Navy with recon, fire support and aerial targeting capabilities. Developed by Northrop Grumman, the C-model is derived from a Bell 407 and the B-model from a Schweizer light helicopter. In addition to turret-mounted sensors, it has the ability to carry laser-guided 70mm rockets. It can detect submerged mines in littoral areas. The MQ-8 has operated in the Middle East and Afghanistan and conducted anti-piracy missions off East Africa. The C-model’s mission endurance is about 12 hours fully loaded, and its cruise speed is about 155 mph, while the B-model has an endurance of five hours at 198 mph. For more information, visit northropgrumman.com or call 703-280-2900.
MQ-9 Reaper: The MQ-9 Reaper/Predator B is a larger version of the Predator, also produced by GA-ASI and designated a long-endurance, high-altitude hunter/killer. It began Air Force service in 2007. It has a 3,850-pound payload, a 27-hour endurance, a cruise speed of 194 mph and a 50,000-feet service ceiling. It can carry Hellfire missiles, laser-guided bombs and the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) on seven hard points. Several U.S. security agencies and other nations operate Reapers, and the aircraft has a significant and successful recon and attack mission record in Iraq and Afghanistan and many other civil and military operations. For more information, visit ga-asi.com or call 858-312-2810.
RQ-4 Global Hawk & MQ-4C TRITON: The Global Hawk is the Air Force’s high-altitude long endurance (HALE) recon platform, flying over 30 hours at 60,000 feet with cruise speeds in excess of 350 mph. Its synthetic aperture radar and long-range EO/IR sensors can cover 40,000 square miles of territory in a day-long flight. It carries no weapons. The Navy’s variant is the MQ-4C Triton, used for maritime surveillance. Built by Northrop Grumman, the HALE systems have been in service since the early 2000s. They are over 47 feet long with a 130.9-foot wingspan and a 32,250-pound gross weight with varying payload weights. For more information, visit northropgrumman.com or call 858-618-4080.
RQ-5 Hunter: The Hunter is derived from an Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) design produced by Northrop Grumman and flown for the U.S. Army. Although slated for replacement, it has remained in service because of its nearly 200-pound payload. It will, however, probably retire soon after a 20-year service life and more than 100,000 flight hours. Launched from a catapult, it utilizes two engines fore and aft on its fuselage. Its wingspan is over 29 feet, with a twin-boom tail. Its service ceiling is about 15,000 feet, with a 12-hour endurance. For more information, visit northropgrumman.com or call 703-280-2900.
RQ-7B Shadow V2: In service with the U.S. Army, Marine Corps and foreign military forces, the Shadow is produced by Textron Systems Unmanned Systems. Its design and performance parameters are reminiscent of the Hunter, but it’s about half the size, with a 20-foot wingspan. It also features an inverted-V “elerudder” and can carry small weapons. The system is equipped with an optical/infrared sensor package as well as communications relay and laser designation systems. It is launched from a catapult and lands on wheels using arresting gear. In wide use, the Shadow has accumulated about a million flight hours in several recent conflicts. Textron Systems is supporting the Army and Marine Corps’ fielding of the RQ-7B Shadow Version 2 (V2) starting in 2015. For more information, visit textronsystems.com or call 410-666-1400.
RQ-11 Raven: AeroVironment, a leading micro-UAV developer, has produced the Raven for the U.S. and allied forces since 2006. It is a tiny tactical recon platform weighing just over 4 pounds with a 4.5-foot wingspan, and it can fly for about 90 minutes with a 6-mile operational radius at typical altitudes of 500 feet and 25-mph cruise speeds. It carries a CCD (charged-couple device) video camera and an infrared camera for night flights. In the air, the Raven can be remotely controlled or operate autonomously with GPS waypoints. One control panel keystroke aborts a mission and returns the RQ-11 to its takeoff point. For more information, visit avinc.com or call 626-637-9983.
RQ-20 Puma AE: AeroVironment’s Puma is a battery-powered and hand-launched micro-UAS. Its wings unfold to a 9.2-foot span, and it weighs just 13 pounds. It can remain airborne for two hours, and its engine propels it at a 23-mph cruise speed. Its electro-optical/IR camera feeds real-time intelligence to a common control unit, and it can provide controlled surveillance up to 9 miles from its launch point. Obviously low-speed and low-altitude, the Puma has added tactical value to small Army and Marine Corps combat units since 2012 after its development in 2008. For more information, visit avinc.com or call 626-637-9983.
RQ-21 Blackjack: A relatively recent Boeing Insitu development for the Navy and Marine Corps to supplement the ScanEagle, the Blackjack handles forward recon missions. It is a twin-boomed, single-engine aircraft that shares the ScanEagle’s launch and recovery systems. Larger than the ScanEagle, the RQ-21 has a 16-foot wingspan and weighs 135 pounds. It cruises at 63 mph and can stay aloft for 24 hours. It began Marine Corps service in Afghanistan in 2014, accumulating more than 1,000 flight hours while on deployment. Testing for shipboard operations will lead to its first at-sea deployment in 2015. For more information, visit insitu.com or call 509-493-8600.
RQ-170 Sentinel: Rarely seen and in Air Force service, Lockheed Martin’s Sentinel is a flying-wing design in service since 2007. A big aircraft with a 65-foot wingspan, its service ceiling is 50,000 feet. Detailed specifications aren’t available, but it apparently utilizes EO/IR sensors and active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar for both recon and electronic warfare. These capabilities, and other features of this highly classified platform, are speculative. It has conducted numerous operations in Afghanistan and other combat theaters. For more information, visit lockheedmartin.com or call 302-478-1583.
ScanEagle: The ScanEagle is a small, low-cost UAS, built by Boeing subsidiary Insitu for the Navy and Marine Corps and allied nations, in service since 2005. It carries day- and night-vision cameras and is catapult launched on land and at sea. Its payload is small—just 7.5 pounds. The ScanEagle’s wingspan is 10.2 feet, and it weighs less than 40 pounds. It cruises at 69 mph with a 19,500-foot service ceiling. It has been used extensively in Persian Gulf operations and also has conducted fishery research missions for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For more information, visit insitu.com or call 509-493-8600.
Stalker: Lockheed Martin developed the Stalker in 2006 for U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). It is hand-launched, and its quiet electric motor propels it at 50-mph cruise speeds for up to two hours. Its wingspan is 10 foot, and its maximum takeoff weight is 17.6 pounds with a 3-pound payload. Its EO/IR cameras can detect IEDs, and for this important mission both Army and Marine Special Forces have requested Stalkers with longer endurance. Lockheed is also developing a ground-based laser-powered system for the aircraft. For more information, visit lockheedmartin.com or call 302-478-1583.
Switchblade: Developed by AeroVironment for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, the Switchblade is an expendable, loitering munition for beyond-line-of-sight targets, not a UAS. The system, a mortar-like launching tube and its payload, weighs only 5.5 pounds. The munition vehicle itself can be guided into a target with the same control console used for the RQ-11 Raven and RQ-20 Puma, using its onboard camera. The warhead is equivalent to a 40mm grenade. Its electric engine is quiet and efficient, enabling it to fly into a target without detection. It can also be flown back for reuse if no target is available. For more information, visit avinc.com or call 626-637-9983.
They began service with a pejorative name of “drone,” but have become essential assets for gathering intelligence at every level, from national command authority to the small-unit battle space. Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), as they’re currently known, have taken on a huge and fast-growing mission burden in several categories of military aviation.
Manned reconnaissance flights are becoming rare because unmanned aircraft systems can fly longer missions without risking human life. UAS deliver weapons on specific targets with tremendous precision.
- RELATED: K-MAX Unmanned Helicopter Keeps Aircrews Away From Risk
- RELATED: Eye in the Sky: Moden UAVs For Reconnaissance
Unmanned aircraft systems are even delivering supplies, eliminating the threats from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to ground convoys and to aircrews who otherwise would carry materiel to troops on the battlefield.
UAS command and control is also rocketing forward. The Department of Defense defines five levels for Tactical Control Systems (TCSs) ranging from Level 1, receipt of secondary imagery, to Level 5, full control from takeoff to landing. Level 4 controls, operation of satellite UAS from fixed and rotary manned aircraft, are routine today.
In addition, the government has established Autonomous Control Levels (ACLs) for information processing ranging from remotely guided (ACL 1) through onboard route re-planning (ACL 4) up through group strategic goals (ACL 9) and autonomous swarms (ACL 10), with top levels reached by 2025.
UAS have proven so successful in military missions that many experts believe the last generation of manned combat aircraft is now in service. Given advances in flight controls, pilotage systems, weapons and electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors, the likelihood is that unmanned aircraft systems will shoulder all or nearly every traditional combat aviation role in the next few decades.
In the near future, “pilots” may well sit at consoles at U.S. airbases while they direct unmanned aerial vehicles throughout entire mission profiles half a world away. In fact, that’s already happening in some cases and may soon be routine on almost every military operation involving aircraft.
A review of the current U.S. unmanned fixed- and rotary-wing fleet demonstrates its diversity, effectiveness and ability to perform a vastly greater array of missions than many of the most advanced manned aircraft are capable of handling today.
For more on the unmanned aircraft systems mentioned in the gallery above, please visit the following websites:
- K-1200 K-MAX: lockheedmartin.com or call 302-478-1583
- Maveric: prioria.com or call 352-505-2189
- MQ-1 Predator: ga-asi.com or call 858-312-2810
- MQ-8 Fire Scout: northropgrumman.com or call 703-280-2900
- MQ-9 Reaper: ga-asi.com or call 858-312-2810
- RQ-4 Global Hawk & MQ-4C TRITON: northropgrumman.com or call 858-618-4080
- RQ-5 Hunter: northropgrumman.com or call 703-280-2900
- RQ-7B Shadow V2: textronsystems.com or call 410-666-1400
- RQ-11 Raven: avinc.com or call 626-637-9983
- RQ-20 Puma AE: avinc.com or call 626-637-9983
- RQ-21 Blackjack: insitu.com or call 509-493-8600
- RQ-170 Sentinel: lockheedmartin.com or call 302-478-1583
- ScanEagle: insitu.com or call 509-493-8600
- Stalker: lockheedmartin.com or call 302-478-1583
- Switchblade: avinc.com or call 626-637-9983
The Key Mount Brake from Dead Air Armament allows users to quickly and easily attach...
by Tactical Life / Mar 23, 2015