Feeds

Apache gunbird used as robo kill-chopper fleet command ship

Gov-conspiracy pilots' reps vow to fight layoffs

Build a business case: developing custom apps

US weaponry'n'aerospace companies have announced the first flight testing of an Apache attack helicopter equipped to act as flagship to an accompanying fleet of robotic unmanned kill-choppers.

Official MoD photo of an Apache in A'stan - interestingly cropped

Brit Apaches are never seen without their radars in public.

The add-on in question is the Longbow Unmanned Aerial Systems Tactical Common Data Link Assembly (dubbed UTA), which is fitted to the chopper's rotor mast above the blades - where some Apaches carry a targeting radar. According to to the Longbow joint-venture firm which makes both the radar and the datalink module:

The LONGBOW UTA is a two-way, high-bandwidth data link for Apache aircrews that allows sensor and flight path control of unmanned aerial systems (UAS). UTA-equipped Apaches enable aircrews to exercise control of UAS at long ranges and receive real-time, high-definition streaming video on their multi-function displays. The UTA is fully integrated [with the Apache's own sensors] to provide the highest quality day or night imagery to other air and ground platforms.

Longbow LLC is owned by US defence giants Lockeed and Northrop. The allied weaponeers say that a datalink'd-up Apache in a "recent" test flight was able to not only receive video from but take control of an unmanned "Little Bird" helicopter. The Little Bird, despite the name, isn't some puny pissant model-aircraft type of thing. It is normally manned, and used by the US spec-ops community to get small teams of operatives in and out of tight spots - or as a pocket gunship, armed with rocket pods, gatling miniguns and/or Hellfire missiles.

Apaches already in service are equipped to receive video from other aircraft, but the new UTA allows Apache crews to actually take control of robocraft. Apart from robotised Little Birds, this could include Fire Scout drone-choppers, able to pack a variety of sensors or deadly weaponry: or perhaps fixed-wing machines, networked multipack cruise missiles or goodness knows what else.

Apache crews of the future, indeed, might choose to simply set down on a suitable hilltop so as to have good comms with their unmanned escorts and let the robots take the strain.

One might ask, indeed, why the UTA datalink couldn't be put in some relatively dull aircraft, sitting safely high above the battlefield. It's probably fair enough not to put it back in the actual US of A for now - the strain on satellite bandwidth caused by that sort of thing is already a serious problem. But it is a little puzzling in some ways to find the robot command node aboard a helicopter which is designed to be in the thick of the fight itself. The design philosophy is perhaps a bit Cold War - the skies might not be under friendly control, so the Apache and its accompanying droid flotilla might be cut off from their own commanders, or anyway have limited bandwidth back to them.

It seems certain that British Apaches won't be getting UTA capability any time soon, anyway. The British fleet, unlike the US one and other countries', has a mast radar for every Apache - a fact that is often raised as a response when people ask why the British ones cost about four times as much per bird as all the others*.

People then started pointing out that in the actual war in Afghanistan nobody flies Apaches with the radars fitted, owing to the copter-unfriendly "hot and high" conditions there and the resulting need to reduce weight. As a result, an embarrassed MoD reacted swiftly. Brit Apaches have now been ordered to fly with radars fitted at all times, despite the general lack of any enemy tanks to detect with them.

As the Brit birds have somwehat more powerful Rolls-Royce engines*, it's usually possible to carry some weapons too: though the choppers are generally unable to hover with full fuel even in ground effect, and have to make rolling takeoffs. Loyal British commanders, however, insist that the other countries wish they had to carry their radars too.

Anyway - it's pretty plain that under the "no one must doubt that those extra radars were worth every penny" diktat, UK Apaches will never be allowed to fly without them - hence will never have space for any UTA robocommand packages. Which, depending on how useful the UTA turns out to be, is either good or bad. ®

Bootnote

*The real reason that our Apaches cost so much is neither the extra radars nor the Rolls engines. It is that we set up our own assembly line to build just 67 aircraft, as opposed to buying straight from the US factory which has made about a thousand. We set up our own line so as to preserve jobs at the AgustaWestland plant in Yeovil. The added cost of doing so was conservatively a million pounds per UK worker saved from the dole queue.

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

More from The Register

next story
Hello, police, El Reg here. Are we a bunch of terrorists now?
Do Brits risk arrest for watching beheading video nasty? We asked the fuzz
True fact: 1 in 4 Brits are now TERRORISTS
YouGov poll reveals terrible truth about the enemy within
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
NBN Co claims 96 mbps download speeds for FTTN trial
Umina trial also delivers 30 mbps uploads, but exact rig used not revealed
Yes, but what are your plans if a DRAGON attacks?
Local UK gov outs most ridiculous FoI requests...
Felony charges? Harsh! Alleged Anon hackers plead guilty to misdemeanours
US judge questions harsh sentence sought by prosecutors
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
BYOD's dark side: Data protection
An endpoint data protection solution that adds value to the user and the organization so it can protect itself from data loss as well as leverage corporate data.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?