Feeds

US warships to get plane-snatching robot arms?

Droidplane catcher grabs barrel of pork

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Build a business case: developing custom apps

The US military has decided to spend $1.4m developing a robotic arm which will be mounted on the deck of a warship in order to pluck robot aeroplanes out of the sky, so permitting them to land safely on vessels without large flight decks.

The "SeaCatcher" system is under development by Advanced Technology & Research Corp of Maryland. It is intended to "enable safe and reliable launch and recovery of fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on small surface combatants", according to the company. Smaller warships such as frigates usually have a helicopter pad, but not a massive aircraft-carrier style flight deck which would let fixed-wing planes take off and land.

There are already ways of launching and recovering small roboplanes from ships at sea, however. The Scan Eagle drone, already in service with the US Navy, has taken off from and been recovered safely aboard vessels even smaller than frigates - for instance a Mark V Special Operations Craft, as operated by the famous yet secretive SEAL frogman-commandoes. This involves tying down a pneumatic catapult on deck for launch, and use of the "Skyhook" system for landing, in which the Scan Eagle snares a line hanging from a 50-foot pole.

An alternative approach would be to use helicopter UAVs rather than fixed-wing: quite large ones are on offer, and indeed the US Marines plan to start using them for battlefield resupply - potentially from ship to shore as well as in land fighting - as soon as next year.

So it's possible to wonder just why the USN really needs a huge robot-arm version of the Skyhook. Well, one advocate of the SeaCatcher says:

Current approaches to fixed-wing UAS recovery, mainly nets and dangling cables, are dangerous to crew, ship and the UAS itself, manpower-intensive, and non-scalable.

The scalability point seems fair: you'd surely need something a bit more substantial than a pneumo catapult and a handheld pole to launch and recover big fixed-wing aircraft. (For instance this wild British idea once proposed for use with Harrier jumpjets at sea.)

Even so, though, overall you'd probably have to say that the SeaCatcher isn't required that urgently if at all. And in fact one does note that the person criticizing the Scan Eagle system is none other than ATR Corporation's local senator, seeking to "earmark" taxpayers' money towards a firm in his constituency.

It would seem that yesterday's $1.4m contract award was made more for porkbarrel reasons than genuinely military ones. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Super Cali signs a kill-switch, campaigners say it's atrocious
Remote-death button bad news for crooks, protesters – and great news for hackers?
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'
Ex US cybersecurity czar guilty in child sex abuse website case
Health and Human Services IT security chief headed online to share vile images
Don't even THINK about copyright violation, says Indian state
Pre-emptive arrest for pirates in Karnataka
The police are WRONG: Watching YouTube videos is NOT illegal
And our man Corfield is pretty bloody cross about it
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.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Scale data protection with your virtual environment
To scale at the rate of virtualization growth, data protection solutions need to adopt new capabilities and simplify current features.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
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?