Cocaine-hunting robot chopper in 60kg bust seizure

Fleeing narco-scallywags pursued by tin sky-cop

Vid An unmanned kill-chopper operating from a US Navy warship has notched up its first drug bust while still in testing, according to reports.

The "Fire Scout" robocopter was engaged in sea trials aboard the US frigate McInerney earlier this month when its mothership detected a possible "go-fast" drug-smuggling speedboat on radar, according to Aviation Week.

The Fire Scout was airborne for a test flight at the time, and having completed planned trials the shipboard operators decided to pursue the radar contact. The robocopter pursued the speeding narco-freighter for some three hours before a boat-borne US Coastguard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET)* intercepted it, seizing some 60kg of cocaine.

The Fire Scout is a robotised version of an existing small commercial chopper. It can carry various kinds of sensor payload, including the infrared cameras which produced the vid above. Other versions have been offered able to carry an impressive arsenal of weaponry, including laser-guided Hellfire antitank missiles or "Viper Strike" pocket miniglider smartbombs.

Makers Northrop intend the droid chopper both for US Naval and Coastguard service. Two can be carried in the same space as a light maritime manned helicopter, which offers the attraction of continuous airborne presence from ships which are normally single-aircraft only such as frigates like the McInerney and US Coastguard cutters.

The machine was originally planned to debut aboard the new and innovative Littoral Combat Ship, but the LCS itself has hit problems and the Fire Scout is now proceeding in trials aboard more normal warships. The McInerney has been operating with the droid chopper since last October.

Fire Scout was also slated for service with the US Army under the name "Class IV UAV", but this has now been axed along with other major parts of the "Future Combat Systems" network robo-legion scheme. The Fire Scout was also unsuccessful in its bid for the US Marines' new scheme to deliver supplies in Afghanistan using robocopters. ®

*Both US and British warships operating against the drugs trade in the Caribbean frequently carry US Coastguard LEDETs to do the actual arrests, as this is much simpler for court and legal purposes than having naval personnel snap on bracelets and assist with subsequent prosecutions.

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