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US Army's robot kill-chopper chopped

Droid tank survives, though

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The US Army's plans for powerful robotic combat formations have been downgraded, according to reports. A pilotless helicopter gunship and droid ground vehicles intended to carry supplies and clear mines have been axed: however a robot tank project and other automated weaponry will proceed.

Armed Robotic Vehicle, Assault, Light (ARV-A-L). You don't want to meet ARV-A Heavy.

Aggrieved by the demise of its whirlybird buddy, the droid tank

wrought terrible vengeance.

Wired magazine reports on the cuts, affecting the interlinked series of tech programmes once known as "Future Combat Systems". This was intended to deliver a panoply of robotic and manned aircraft, vehicles and equipment linked together by a high-capacity, totally secure wireless networking system.

The plans ballooned in cost and complexity, however, and in the end were severely trimmed and renamed "Brigade Combat Team Modernisation". However various bits and pieces remained, including the Class IV Unmanned Air Vehicle - a small helicopter modified by removing the cockpit for obsolete human pilots and using the payload for an impressive array of armament - and the robotic MULE (Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment) vehicle.

Now, however, the Class IV kill-copter is dead as far as the Army is concerned - though it may yet see service with the US Navy and/or Coast Guard. Two of the little robochoppers can fit into the same hangar space as a light maritime helicopter, making them an attractive option for frigates and patrol cutters which can normally carry only one or two aircraft.

The mine-clearance and kit-carrying versions of the MULE are now gone, too. However the armed version of the vehicle - the Armed Robotic Vehicle Assault Light (ARV-A-L) - which will offer "both anti-tank and anti-personnel weapons platforms that will be remotely operated by network linked Soldiers" - stays in the programme.

All the cuts have been dictated by politicians in Washington, rather than by the Army itself.

Meanwhile it has recently been announced that the earliest, smallest elements of "Brigade Combat Team Modernisation" - namely a small hovering camera bot, a backpack-size groundcrawler job, fridge-sized crates of cruise missiles, scatterable sensors and underlying network gear - are now "in production". ®

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