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Nobody onboard: while manned aircraft, helicopters and medium-to-large unmanned air vehicles can provide information on enemy activities in large open areas they are of lesser use to detect activities within the streets of a city. Best is to be able to fly within the streets.

Small drones that can be easily carried by troops on patrol and launched to meet an immediate tactical need will thus play a growing role in urban operations. A number of such systems have entered service, or are about to do so.

One example is the Darpa-funded AV Wasp micro air vehicle, a small, quiet, portable and rugged unmanned air platform designed for front-line reconnaissance and surveillance over land or sea. The lithium-ion battery-powered Wasp is capable of flying in excess of one hour (it has demonstrated endurances of 107 minutes), with a speed range of 30 to 50 km/h (20 to 40 mph), and provides real-time imagery from relatively low altitudes. With only a 40.6-cm wingspan, weighing about 340 grams and fitting in a backpack, the Wasp serves as a reconnaissance platform for the company level and below by virtue of its extremely small size and quiet propulsion system. Wasp prototypes are currently under extended evaluation in-theatre by the US Marine Corps and the US Navy.

Another is the Mav--seen in the title picture--which is a vertical take-off and landing, shrouded drone developed by Honeywell. A number of these have already been deployed but the system is in constant evolution, particularly regarding its powerplant and sensors. A recent interview with a programme official revealed that the Mav is being looked at as a serious solution to detect the presence of buried booby traps. The downwash of its rotor could indeed be put to good use to blow dust off a dirt track to help its sensors to more easily detect the presence of hidden objects. The Mav currently uses a two-stroke engine, made by 3W, which produces four horsepower, sufficient to lift the 7.7-kg device (including its 450-gram payload). Measuring only 40 x 33 cm, it fits into a purpose-made rucksack. Honeywell is now looking into the possibility of developing a micro-turbine version.

The vertically flying shrouded drone is becoming increasingly fashionable for urban environments. In France and after having considered Singapore Technology's Fantail, Sagem has finally reverted to a Bertin design--the Hovereye2--to use as a basis for its Odin (envisaged as an added element to the French Army's Fglin suite currently being fielded). Unlike the Mav and the Fantail the Odin is electrically powered. Designed to see what is happening in the next street or building the Odin has a hovering endurance of 36 minutes and an urban datalink range of about one km, although it is capable of dash speeds of 100 km/h.

Already mentioned above, the Singapore Technology Fantail pursues the same goal as the French Odin, in that it is also being considered to be part of the Singaporean Army's soldier modernisation programme. As with the Mav, however, it is powered by a thermal engine.

Ground Robots

Unlike drones, which have the ability to conduct a mission and return home on their own, ground unmanned vehicles need to cope with a number of obstacles that the drones do not have. They thus permanently need to be remotely controlled, via radio or a cable (tether). The ultimate goal in land robotics is to obtain a vehicle that is able to sense the terrain, recognise obstacles and avoid them. This necessitates not only a vast number of sensors, but also a great deal of artificial intelligence. Indeed, how can a robot that 'sees' a vast expanse ahead of it through its sensors interpret this as a viable field when it might be a lake? Some of the most advanced autonomous land robots are probably the Israeli AvantGuard and Guardium respectively developed by Elbit and IAI, but even then, these are intended to conduct patrol missions along a well-planned, pre-determined route.

A number of competitions have been taking place in recent years, including those conducted under the auspices of Darpa. In fact the agency will highlight two of its nine strategic research thrusts--Urban Area Operations and Advanced Manned and Unmanned Systems--at its third Grand Challenge competition on 3 November 2007. Darpa Director Dr Tony Tether told the House Armed Services Committee, Terrorism and Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, on 21 March, <<{...} the next big leap will be an autonomous vehicle that can navigate and operate in traffic, a far more complex challenge for a 'robotic' driver>>. For the Darpa Urban Challenge competing teams will have to demonstrate the ability of their unmanned ground vehicles to conduct simulated military supply missions in a mock urban area. Darpa officials will select competing teams following an analysis of 53 site visits conducted in June and will announce the location for the Urban Challenge on 10 August.

In the meantime, remotely controlled vehicles are still the short answer. Long employed for explosive ordnance disposal operations, unmanned ground vehicles have a much broader potential for military operations, particularly in an urban environment.

Rheinmetall unveiled its Systronic Demonstrator Wiesel2 Digital at Eurosatory in 2006. The German company has since given Armada a live demonstration of the system's capabilities. The Systronic is a bit like a Russian doll: the Wiesel 2 carries a lightweight, four-propeller drone called the <<Air Vehicle>> on its bonnet and a small 'garage' attached to the back, on the right of the rear access door. A small lift enables the remotely controlled land robot called the "Telemax" to descend to the ground, unfold its tracks and be on its way. Controlling the Telemax and monitoring what it sees is performed from within the armoured vehicle. However, should the Telemax run into trouble, and the Air Vehicle be impossible to operate for one reason or another, the two-man crew can dismount and remotely control it around the corner of the street to see what is happening, the Wiesel also being equipped with three nose-mounted cameras and a rear mast-mounted camera.

The smallest platform in the US Army's Future Combat System family will be the man-portable Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV) capable of operating in urban terrain tunnels, sewers and caves to conduct reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition missions. The vehicle is being developing by iRobot under a $ 51.4 million contract. It will be a smaller, lighter successor to iRobot's Packbot series, consisting of the Explorer, Scout and EOD models. More than 850 have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they are an important component of the Future Combat System programme.

The target weight for the SUGV is less than 13.6 kg, half the weight of the Packbot, with a modular 'plug-and-play' payload of up to 2.72 kg. It is intended to have an endurance of six hours and operate reliably up to 1000 metres from the operator above ground and up to 200 metres away in tunnels. Under present plans the army would like to field the SUGV as part to the second 'spinout' to the present force in 2012, four years before the first FCS brigade combat team is due to be formed. The US Army Research Laboratory is evaluating the maturity of the design to determine if it can be brought forward to the first spinout in 2008 so that it can be used for missions in buildings, caves and other confined spaces. The primary factor that will influence this decision, which could be made as soon as midyear, is whether semi-autonomous navigation can be programmed into the SUGV. Engineers are optimistic that, given the comparatively short range over which the SUGV is expected to operate, this can be achieved.

US firm Foster-Miller, which specialises in the development of EOD robots, has been owned by Qinetiq in Britain since late 2004. The two companies collaborated in the development of the Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System (Swords) variant of Foster-Miller's Talon EOD vehicle. The standard Talon weighs about 45 kg and can be remotely operated at ranges up to 1000 metres from the suspect device. The Talon reconnaissance variant is lighter at 27 kg and can be fitted with a variety of day/night sensors and listening devices. The Talon Swords can be armed with an M240 7.62 mm or an M249 5.56 mm machine gun, the Barrett 12.7-mm sniper rifle and other light weapons. The Swords is being evaluated by several US military units. The system was evaluated by the 5th Special Forces Group in Iraq and three systems that were evaluated by the 3rd Infantry Division will be taken to Iraq for further trials.

Carnegie Mellon, in conjunction with the US Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, has developed the lightweight Dragon Runner Mobile Ground Sensor System that has undergone field trials in Iraq over the past several months. Weighing about four kg and measuring 39.4 cm long, 28.6 cm wide and 12.7 cm high the Dragon Runner has been designed to fit inside a marine's pack along with its hand-held controller which incorporates a small screen. The robot's suspension system enables the Dragon Runner to be thrown through windows, up stairs or over walls. It also has a 'sentry mode' using its several on-board sensors to provide real-time imagery and audio alerts. It is intended for use at the squad, platoon and company level primarily for operations in an urban or desert environment.

Elbit Systems chose the Association of the US Army Winter Symposium and Exhibition in March 2007 to unveil its Viper (Versatile, Intelligent and Portable Robot) which was developing with funding provided by the Israeli Ministry of Defense for evaluation by IDF as part of its Portable Unmanned Ground Vehicle programme. The Viper weighs about eleven kg and measures 30 x 40 cm, enabling it be easily carried inside a soldier's backpack. If features a new integrated wheeled-track system powered by two electric motors which enables it to climb stairs and overcome other obstacles. A 'scorpion tail' elevates the payload and stabilises the platform. The Viper can be equipped with a range of payloads such as day/night cameras, explosive detectors, a 9-mm mini-Uzi submachine gun, grenade launchers and a robotic arm. The Viper is expected to be fielded initially to IDF special forces units but eventually the army plans to equip each infantry platoon with the system.

Macroswiss offers the Spyrobot Mk II, which is intended for use at the squad or patrol level. Weighing less than five kg it can be carried in a soldier's backpack and thrown into a room or over a wall to conduct reconnaissance missions by day and night. The four-wheel-drive vehicle is able to climb and descend stairs 25 cm high and cross obstacles of similar size. It has a maximum operating range of 400 metres in open country while the battery provides up to four hours of operations for the Spyrobot's day/night video cameras and high-powered white lights. Macroswiss plans to unveil the Micro Spyrobot at DSEi in September. This is expected to weigh less than two kilos, have an operating range of 150 metres and feature a display monitor that can be strapped on the user's arm. The US Army's Rapid Equipping Force is expected to buy both Spyrobot and Micro Spyrobot for evaluation and other Nato countries with forces deployed in Afghanistan are said to be interested.

On the Ball

Macroswiss also produces the ball-shaped Short Range Throwing Camera (SRTC) which rights itself after being thrown into a room or other confined space. A motor rotates the upper half of the unit enabling a black and white or colour video camera to transmit a panoramic view of the surrounding area to monitors up to 300 metres away. A single 9V battery will power the unit for two to five hours.

Israel's ODF Optronics produces the Eye Ball R1 system, which entered IDF service in 2005 and has also been bought by the French and Singaporean armies. The US Department of Defence has bought an unspecified quantity through Remington Technologies, a new division of Remington Arms. Packaged in a durable sphere the Eye Ball R1 is rolled or thrown into a room, bunker or tunnel. After righting itself the Eye Ball transmits real-time video and audio to a portable display unit up to about 30 metres away inside a building or about 150 metres outside. The Eye Ball can also be suspended from a wire or mounted on a pole. The ball can absorb forces of more than 100 Gs and in trials it has continued to function after the nearby explosion of a stun grenade. According to the manufacturer each unit, which costs about $ 6000, includes two Eye Balls, a training ball and a maintenance and accessory kit.

The Singapore Armed Forces have also evaluated the ST Kinetics Vision Ball, which is fitted with cameras and an optional omni-directional microphone. The Vision Ball and its control unit weigh 1.5 kg. The ball is able to provide an orientational view without actual physical movement by remote control. Data can be transmitted up to 100 metres away to the hand-held control unit, a head-up display or vehicle-mounted monitor. Lithium batteries provide up to three hours of operation.

To provide an immediate 'eye in the sky' for infantry units there are several products available that are designed to be launched from 40-mm shoulder-fired grenade launchers. The Huntir (High-altitude Unit Navigated Tactical Imaging Round), produced by Martin Electronics of Perry, Florida, is fired to a height of about 230 metres where it then ejects an infrared camera. Suspended from a small parachute this provides up to five minutes of real-time video to a hand-held monitor. The Huntir self-destructs after about 20 minutes. An initial production run of 5000 units provided evaluation rounds for the British and Swedish armies and the US Marine Corps. A second-generation round will offer improved resolution.

Rafael's 38-mm Firefly is designed for launch from 40-mm shoulder-fired weapons to a maximum range of 600 metres. During its eight-second flight two charged-coupled device cameras transmit high-resolution, real-time video of the area directly under its trajectory to a soldier's pocket computer. The images can be relayed to the computers of other soldiers nearby.

As part of its Multi-Purpose Rifle System Israel Military Industries has developed the Over-The-Hill Intelligence Grenade. The MPRS is actually a modernisation package which consisting of a fire control system, optics, new multi-purpose ammunition and C4I capabilities that can be integrated with 5.56 mm assault rifles. The intelligence grenade carries a day/night digital camera that transmits real time images during its six-second flight to a maximum range of 600 metres. The soldier views the images on a PDA and can store these for later evaluation or forward them to other users.

Arrested Development

Vehicle searches are an important tactic in denying the enemy freedom of movement in peace support and counter-insurgency operations. While permanent vehicle checkpoints are used to control access to high-value targets such as government buildings and security force bases, random or 'snap' check points are effective at finding weapons, explosives and illicit materials being moved in vehicles. To mount a snap vehicle checkpoint troops need a lightweight system that can be used to quickly and safely stop vehicles without resorting to lethal force. Once such device is Qinetiq's X-Net portable vehicle arresting system, which was developed from the British Army's experience in Northern Ireland to provide a device that could be deployed rapidly in the path of an oncoming car or light truck. The X-Net incorporates Dyneema, a polyethylene fibre that is, pound-for-pound, eight times stronger than steel, and has two rows of tungsten spikes attached to the edges of the net. The spikes puncture the vehicle's tires and the net wraps around the wheels and axle to bring it to a safe stop within about 75 metres. Attempts to drive backwards further entangle the vehicle. With a weight of between 12 and 17 kg, depending on the variant, the X-Net can be easily carried by one soldier. Qinetiq is developing several X-Net variants, including a version designed to stop heavy trucks and larger vehicles and a remote deployment system. These new developments are intended to protect security force personnel from attack by vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.

More than 1100 of the first 2000 X-Net units that were produced have been acquired by the US Department of Defense for use in Afghanistan, Haiti and Iraq. Earlier this year the Department of Defense awarded Qinetiq a $ 9.2 million order as the first instalment of a five-year indefinite duration, indefinite quantity contract for the up 2000 X-Nets and training variants annually. The device has been given the US military designation Vehicle Lightweight Arresting Device (Vlad).
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Title Annotation:Complete Guide
Publication:Armada International
Date:Aug 1, 2007
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