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ICG Risk Blog - [ Building a COTS (Commercial Off the Shelf Technology) cruise missile Part I ]

Building a COTS (Commercial Off the Shelf Technology) cruise missile Part I


A field trip to the 50th Annual Toledo Radio Control Exposition on 2 April with the goal of assembling a COTS fleet of attack and surveillance UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) was a glowing success.

I am not an R/C pilot so I could start clean as would any other reasonably technically inclined individual. My ground rules were:

  • Could pay cash for everything
  • Could buy everything in-country and so not have to bring items across a border
  • Could buy all items in a population-dense environment not immediately likely to be surveilled
  • Could obtain PC-based simulators in order to covertly learn how to pilot either fixed wing or rotary wing aircraft, i.e., before I tried to fly a physical device
  • All essential components were either genuinely plug and play or already available in kitted form
  • Could obtain functional schematics and instructions for all installs/add-ons
  • Ability to install GPS autopilots with ground pilot override
  • Ability to install real-time video cameras and their RF links
  • Ability to install digital camera triggering
  • Ability to carry payloads (and either release, spray, or otherwise distribute the payload)
  • Option for stealth/noise abatement
  • Ability to do it at modest cost in comparison to anything a military unit would field and, labor costs aside, be within al Qaeda's frugal pocket book


I follow both the UAV and the micro-UAV (MAV or MUAV) segments and have been watching the deployment of what are called "back-able" as in backpack-able small UAVs for the marines and army. I was aware of Yamaha's superb RMAX commercial UAV helicopter, the latest in a series of fine AVs (Autonomous Vehicles) and am familiar with the collaborative work between R&D and computational science groups at NASA Ames Research Center. I was also aware of the PRC's effort to build its own version of the RMAX, called the "air robot."

If any reader is a follower of Japanese technology development, about the best we have is David Kahaner, now at ATIP (Asian Technology Information Program). Kahaner was writing on the control logic for the Yamaha R-50 (predecessor to the RMAX) back in the mid-90s, concluding that it was "An excellent case for "dual usage" technology."

I felt that it was time to see what a COTS assembly would produce as my assumption was that US homeland security might not be thinking asymmetrically as to what aerial threat profiles a perp could produce inside CONUS. (Remember that al Qaeda has had a focus on 'controlling the flight deck' and delivering a payload. The first attempt was converting twin engine passenger craft into 'crop dusters.' Only when that failed did al Qaeda shift to taking control of airliners.)

Results in Part II

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Terrorism Public  Weapons & Technology Public  


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