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

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

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See Part I for Background and my Ground rules for acquisition.

Results were very successful. Some highlights:

Ability to assemble an R/C craft that could launch conventionally, switch over to GPS autopilot, fly a course either to a target or a race track round trip and allow it to again be taken over by another user for terminal homing or landing. Some small autopilots and telemetry systems will squeeze into a .20 or .40 size sport plane, but anything goes once you reach a .40 or .60 sized trainer, medium sized sailplane, jet, and certainly any 1/4 to 1/3 scale models on up.

Many PC simulators for a variety of fixed wing and rotary wing R/C models.

Nose video cameras that could superimpose imagery over a heads-up cockpit display based on telemetry sent back from the bird. If the ground pilot was properly trained, it was possible to fly something onto the target just like the big boys.

Moderate to large piston engine-aircraft capable of moving substantive payload. In case a reader is thinking of tiny balsa wood items, I found piston engine craft at the larger end of the R/C spectrum at 13 foot wingspan and 70 pounds. On the lighter end, I could find electric helicopters, some of whom could out fly their gas powered competitors. All could, of course, mount video cameras.

Model jet engines producing 30 pounds of thrust from a 6 pound unit.  While there are jet kits, there are also excellent sites such as the United States Radio Controlled Jet Command (USRCJC) whose "sole interest is in flying Radio Controlled models of jet aircraft including those that are turbine-powered, piston engine, and electric ducted fans."

TX-RX (transmit-receive) units for R/C control that used synth (synthesizer) frequency generation so that users can select any frequency on-the-fly within the R/C band - beneficial in an RF confused area such as an urban or industrial area.

Availability of both analog and digital control channels that could respond to voltage, amplitude, pulse variations in order to control and monitor payload release and aircraft performance.

Smoke systems intended for demonstration flying are intriguing as a dispersal mechanism for other agents. Certain smoke pumps use one TX-RX channel to toggle on/off. More investigation is needed but the sprayer function is strong.

Conversations with one producer of high-end CNC machined landing gear systems (all machined from solid stock so as to dispense with weldments and seamed tubing in order to approximate the strength of the forgings of their big brothers), included a story that a military UAV producer had hard-landed a prototype using their gear set and had merely bent the strut back instead of breaking it off. That was one of many examples of superb R/C components that are already being harvested by mainline defense contractors. Dual use indeed.

Summary:

One of the things one learns from cruise missile defense is that merely disabling the warhead or the bird is not enough as the kinetic impact and secondary ignition of remaining fuel is often enough to substantially harm the target. Depending upon the intended use, it might not be necessary to create a conventional warhead for an R/C attack vehicle.

If the intent is to surveil or deliver/spray a payload, then an R/C aircraft can be launched, perform its mission, and subsequently be recovered -- if for no other reason than to forestall discovery of the means of an attack or that an attack had occurred. The cost of the systems is low enough and simple enough that it could be produced in a quantity that would satisfy the redundancy needs of groups like al Qaeda.

Initial results of my one-day field trip and a bit of follow-up research showed that it is feasible for a diligent and reasonably agile individual or small group to create a COTS hunter-killer and surveillance R/C model fleet, a poor man's Predator.

Did I mention R/C boats and submarines?

Follow-on Part III

Gordon Housworth



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