Brit Spy Jet Spots Targets for Killer Drones

26.07.09

Categorie: Afghanistan, David Axe, Robots |

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by DAVID AXE

Robotic planes are deadlier than ever, with the advent of the MQ-9 Reaper, flown by the U.S. and U.K. But all attack drones, including Reaper, have a similar problem: their full-motion-video sensors are designed for a narrow, detailed view of the ground below, rather than a “wide-area” stare. Basically, you have to tell a drone where to look for bad guys; it rarely finds them on its own. So who does the staring, to help the drones zero in?

The British Royal Air Force found one solution. According to Air Forces Monthly, the RAF has deployed its new ASTOR radar spy plane to Afghanistan, twice, to allow the modified biz jet with the huge ground-mapping radar to cue targets for Reapers and Nimrod jets equipped with streaming video cameras.

On the U.S. side, the E-8C J-STARS has the same basic equipment as the ASTOR. But there’s no reason that wide-area surveillance has to be conducted by an expensive radar mounted on an expensive spy plane. A cheaper, wide-angle, infra-red or electro-optical camera, mounted on an inexpensive light plane, could do it too. Indeed, that seems to be the approach taken by various “specials” developed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Liberty office, including the Army’s “Constant Hawk” C-23 and the Marine Corps’ “Angel Fire” bird. Liberty is now producing dozens of MC-12Ws, nicknamed Project Liberty and based on the commercial King Air 350.

The MC-12Ws might eventually be fitted with the Air Force’s new “Gorgon Stare” system, previously known as “Wide-Area Airborne Surveillance,” which Bill Sweetman said “images a far greater area — multiple kilometers square — at a much lower refresh rate [than a drone's video camera], one or two cycles per second. The technical enabler for WAAS is compact storage, which allows the operator to store, ‘rewind’ and fast-forward and reverse the imagery to see patterns in movement.”

Spot a suspicious pattern, send in the Reapers!

Coming full circle, the Brits are buying an aircraft, called the Shadow R1, pictured, that’s closely related to the MC-12W, even using the same airframe. The Iraqi and Lebanese air forces are also buying similar models.

(Photo: Key Publishing)

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