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ICG Risk Blog - [ Applying COTS UAVs to military missions ]

Applying COTS UAVs to military missions

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For background, see parts one and two of "Building a COTS (Commercial Off the Shelf Technology) cruise missile" and "COTS cruise missiles get easier yet"

Naval Office of Naval Research (ONR) has taken an essentially COTS R/C model aircraft and added commercially available sensors (visible and infrared), data links, and a PC video game-like command interface instead of the normal R/C toggle/joystick. The added components boost the cost to $50K but a volume cost is assumed to be in the $20K range. If terrorists do not make their own, or use purely COTS elements, they will buy or steal ours or someone else's version.

Called the Silver Fox, this tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is designed for small military units as a RISTA (reconnaissance, intelligence, surveillance and target acquisition) tool. This is a 7' wing span, 20 pound unit with a 4 pound payload, thousand foot ceiling, and low signature UAV. It transports in a "slightly enlarged golf bag" (a great civilian cover) and "could operate very easily out of the back of an SUV."

Future versions aim for 24 hour endurance, 1,500 mile range, and a 10,000 foot ceiling. A terrorist's ability to gain "control of the flight deck" gets easier and cheaper with each technology generation. The "glide slope to the desktop" gets increasingly short.

Even simpler UAVs such as the battery powered Pointer "can be assembled, launched, flown and recovered by operators with minimal training and no previous experience operating drones." An onboard camera relays video to pilot and navigator. Pointer is a dual use aircraft in that it can be used for pollution monitoring as well as chemical weapons detection.

See all US air, ground, and sea military robots used in Iraq here and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) here.

Gordon Housworth



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