By Velan Mudaliar, Picatinny ArsenalJuly 22, 2010
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- Today, there are very few man-portable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can effectively identify and neutralize light-armored targets with energetic warheads while minimizing collateral damage.
The lack of such tactical capabilities constrains the warfighter's ability to function in an urban environment where the targets might be in areas where the potential for civilian casualties is relatively high.
The Lethal Unmanned Aerial Systems (L-UAS) program at the Army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center's (ARDEC) is the first step toward generating a solution.
"The program weaponizes a UAS platform, which is essentially an aerial prototype or a toy plane, that can autonomously fly into a predetermined target with the help of an onboard GPS receiver," said Daniel Vo, the program's project officer.
The results from ARDEC's weaponization effort include the prototype's internally equipped programmable fuze and warhead.
The fuze is an Electronics Safe/Arm Device and is referred to as "the Universal Smart Fuze" for the "Remote Armament System." It can also be armed and disarmed wirelessly by the operator in the ground control station.
"Another key safety feature is that the fuze performs a self check after powering up and wirelessly reports its status back to the operator, which would allow the mission to be aborted if the status report is negative," Vo explained.
For example, the UAV may send back information indicating that it is not flying at near constant speeds, which would confirm that the system is not in normal operating mode, therefore leading to a decision to abort the mission.
The Multi-purpose Warhead can be detonated remotely in either "air burst" mode or on impact. This warhead consists of Multiple Explosively Formed Penetrators that can defeat light armor targets on direct impact.
The same warhead can be used to defeat soft targets (personnel) by detonating at an appropriate standoff, which is the distance from the warhead to the target at the time of detonation.
"The launcher for the prototype is rail-based and operates on compressed gas," Vo said.
Flight plans in the form of waypoints (reference points that specify latitude, longitude and altitude) can be uploaded into the commercially available autopilot software that integrates the propulsion system with the avionics package, both prior to launch as well as mid-flight.
The prototype is even recoverable as a landing plan can be created by also using waypoints. As an additional failsafe measure, the operator on the ground can remotely take control of the Lethal UAS from the autopilot at any point mid-flight with the assistance of the onboard video camera.
The same camera can also enable the prototype to perform surveillance-oriented missions. However, once a target of opportunity has been identified, it can be neutralized by first remotely arming the warhead and then allowing the prototype to complete the attack as described.
There are other precision armaments in development for urban warfare that could minimize collateral damage in the form of shoulder-fired rounds as well as mortar rounds.
However, using such items can increase the warfighter's exposure to enemy fire. Instead, a lethal UAV would allow Soldiers to engage the same type of target without requiring line-of-sight or having a standardized flight trajectory that can be traced back to the user's origin.
Two successful tests of the ARDEC developed system were conducted earlier this year at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. The targets were stationary vehicles. The flights for both tests were completely autonomous and the ground operator did not have to manually take control at any point.
"These positive results were obtained within a turnaround time of one year since the project's start," said Vo.
He attributed the quick pace of the program to the fact that both the Universal Smart Fuze and Multi-purpose Warhead (including the internal explosive, which was specifically chosen to produce higher blast effects) were developed in-house at ARDEC facilities at Picatinny Arsenal.
The UAS platform included the airframe, avionics package, propulsion system and launcher. Future plans for the Lethal UAS program include miniaturizing the current platform so that it can be fired out of an 84-mm shoulder-fired tube and eventually out of a 60-mm mortar tube. One goal is to make the system "man-portable".
"This means reducing the total weight of the system to less than ten pounds," Vo said. "ARDEC is confident of being able to reach this goal, he added.