Monday, April 11, 2011

Navy Upgrades Its Spying, Drug-Sniffing Robot Copter

Navy Upgrades Its Spying, Drug-Sniffing Robot Copter: "

What to do with a drone helicopter that thinks it’s in an episode of Miami Vice? Why, make it fly faster and further, of course.

The Navy’s Fire Scout drone helicopter is starting to be upstaged by the Fire-X, an amalgam of Northrop Grumman’s sensors and software transplanted into the body of a Bell 407 copter. The idea is to make an even more powerful robot helicopter for surveillance and cargo lifts.

George Vardoulakis of Northrop rattles off expectations for Fire-X at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space confab outside Washington on Monday. Fire Scout can fly for 8 hours with a maximum range of 618 nautical miles? Well, Fire-X will fly for 15, with a max range of 1227. Fire Scout tops out at 100 knots? Fire-X can speed by at 140. Fire-X will carry a load of 3200 lbs. to Fire Scout’s 1242. All this talk from a drone helicopter that just took its first flight in December.

How it’ll handle drugs is a separate question.

Fire Scout, a $9 million drone copter, proved to be a potent drug-sniffer last April, when it accompanied the frigate USS McInerney off the Pacific coast of central America. Using its BRITE STAR II forward-looking infrared electro-optical camera, it caught a peek of a fast moving boat with the “characteristics of a drug runner,” recounts Capt. Tim Dunigan, the Navy’s program manager for the Fire Scout. It took some video of the boat and sent it to the McInerney below, which pursued and sent a Coast Guard team to board.

As Danger Room pal Sam LaGrone of Jane’s reported at the time, the McInerney seized 60 tons of narcotics, mostly cocaine, the first drug seizure assisted by an unmanned helicopter. (Though an estimated 200 tons of drugs were dumped overboard by the “go-fast” boat’s crew.) These days, Global Hawks are flying above Mexico to spy on drug cartels, but a rotary wing drone blazed the trail.

Fire-X isn’t going to be a big departure from Fire Scout, though. The BRITE STAR II and other radars will remain on board, as will its software for relaying information to a ship — “97 percent of its software is rehosted” on the Fire-X, Vardoulakis says, so it’ll be rapidly ready for upgrades if the Navy’s interested. It’ll perform many of the same missions, too: from maritime surveillance to communications relay to cargo to anti-piracy to counternarcotics support. Whether the Fire-X will shave its trademark beard stubble remains to be seen.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...