Army, Marines Eying Backpackable Mini-Helicopter

By Stew Magnuson
LAS VEGAS — Companies offering small hand-launched helicopters are a common sight on the exhibition hall at the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International show.
Now, there might actually be customers for them. The Army and Marine Corps have a joint requirement for mini-helicopters that could be carried into the field by small units, according to Col. Grant A. Webb, Army Training and Doctrine Command capability manager for unmanned aerial systems.
It will have to be small enough for a soldier or Marine to carry it in his backpack, and easy to deploy, he said Aug. 7 at the AUVSI conference.
"It has to be launched when the soldier is prone. There are some situations when you don't want the soldier standing up launching a Raven or a Puma," he said, referring to the Army's two current small UAS.
A capability production document, which specifies the performance parameters the service is looking for, is currently under review by a three-star general, and Webb is trying to push that through in order to field the aircraft as soon as possible.
The aforementioned Puma light UAV performs a similar role.
As for larger vertical take off and landing UAVs, the Army continues to study the possibility of adopting them as well, Webb said. Called the medium-range, multi-purpose VTOL, the Navy is leading an analysis of alternatives. That document is studying the state of the technology and whether one would fit current requirements.
One of the missions would be for cargo resupply. TRADOC has a parallel study to see if that would fit into the Army structure.
The Marine Corps has jumped out ahead and has been sending supplies to troops in remote Afghan outposts with unmanned helicopters. The Army has been keeping tabs on that project, Webb said.
"We may not be buying an unmanned VTOL in the near future — the results aren't in yet — but we are certainly going to be smarter on what capability exists and how we would employ them," he said.
Meanwhile, TRADOC is also studying deploying its UAS and helicopters on Navy ships, he said.
"This is not a new concept," he said. Army Special Operations Forces have done so, he said.
"It gives the Department of Defense significant capability if you're able to take Army aviation, supplement our brothers in the Marine Corps, and be able to fly off forward ships," he said.
The request to study the concept has come down from the Defense Department and the Army chief of staff, he said.
Photo credit: Aeryon Labs Inc.

Topics: Robotics, Unmanned Air Vehicles

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