back to article US Marines' Afghan robocopter-supply contest down to two

Ambitious plans by the US Marines which might reshape tomorrow's battlefields - and even upset civilian logistics in some circumstances - have moved ahead. A competition to select an unmanned aircraft for delivery of supplies to isolated outposts in Afghanistan by 2010 has now eliminated all but two contenders. The A160T armed …

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When will they learn?

Helicopters are massively expensive to run and lack most of the capabilities wanted. You can get better bang for the buck by tossing you cargo out the back of a C-130 on a parachute. There are even smart parachute systems available with independent navigation capability. Vertical landing OK, vertical takeoff not necessary anyway.

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Terminator

flying robotwars

Make them fight for the contract, put it on pay per view and you'll cover the development costs! Unless they join forces, against us......

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FAIL

Maintenance

"You could cut corners on maintenance - a very significant cost - without any need to fret about possible dead aviators: instead you could trim procedures to save as much money as possible before the cost of crashes offset any further gain."

Well, aside from the fact that said cut corners and skimped/gundecked maintenance could as easily result in these Stringfellow Hawke-less egg-beaters piling into those unfortunates that they would be supposed to be re-supplying, whose upset, I would imagine, would be at least as great (and as brief) as the absent pilots' would have been?

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I see a flaw in the cost savings

Lewis Page wrote: "If supplies are urgently needed, it can be flown into the midst of a hot firefight without a qualm. You could cut corners on maintenance - a very significant cost - without any need to fret about possible dead aviators: instead you could trim procedures to save as much money as possible before the cost of crashes offset any further gain."

Whilst it's true that the aviators would be saved, (because they're elsewhere), I'd need some convincing that the poor grunts on the ground are going to be content with a couple of tons of dead robocopter falling on their heads - irrespective of whether the cause is Hurdian cutbacks in the maintainance budget, or a "towelhead" firing that infamous "golden BB"!

Interesting about the anti-Canadian bias causing the Snow Goose to be "cooked". Plus am I the only person who thinks that if RoboCopter is good enough for the USMC then maybe it'd be useful for relieving the pressure on the UK copter force in Afghanistan? Send the supply runs via the RoboCopter and keep the scarce Chinook's and Merlin's for ferrying troops.

In which case Lewis, any idea what the exchange rate is for buying RoboCopters instead of a Eurofighter Typhoon?

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Grenade

This is why we need the Eurofighter

The reg is normally down on the Eurofighter, and reckons the need for a pure dogfighter is obsolete. But this contraption proves the need. As time goes by, the role of precision bomb delivery will be provided more and more by UAVs, drones and missiles. Using a manned aircraft to perform the same task will be seen as a decadence.

However the role of air superiority will never be able to be automated in the same manner, and with the rise of the ground battlespace into 3 dimensions, controlling the skies will be more important than ever. Being a carnivore at the very top of the food chain is better than being an omnivore.

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Joke

Meanwhile at the MoD...

Not to be outdone by the Americans, the MoD have received the latest batch of elastic bands that Mr Brown has found behind a radiator at Number 10. The elastic bands will be dispatched immediately and fitted to new stealth helicopters made from polystyrene kits that can be assembled on the battlefield.

The new wave of helicopters are completely automated requiring no pilot, just a very brave member of ground crew to walk around the helicopter 5000 times without letting go of the blades.

Nothing but the best for our boys! :-(

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Pint

Am I dumb or what ...

wouldn't a robotised blimp be better? After all if it was shot down you could still patch the holes...

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Hovering Bomb ?

The idea of an unmanned device hovering over a hot landing zone carrying "tens of tons" of ordinance is not one I'm keen on.

During the Vietnam war the US Army used to drop 10 ton bombs into the jungle to clear areas for troops to land.

Hitting one of the unmanned devices as it hovers gently down into the hot landing zone would proberbly have a similar useful clearance effect for the taliban.

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Black Helicopters

why the sudden urgency

Because helos have enough trouble flying w/o being shot at, and if there's a pilot inside, you get a "Blackhawk down" situation because the chopper is usually quite close to the enemy it's strafing, so the enemy gets there long before any rescue forces. No pilot, and you no longer care so much.

A lot of the Russian pain in Afghanistan was their heavy attack helicopters going down. I assume the Marines are actually learning from history here.

You always dig up the coolest stuff.

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Black Helicopters

Lewis Page strikes again...

"(for instance armour protection, likely to be demanded) even though the flyboys' risk is fairly small"

Compared to what? Highest target on the Taliban's hit-list are the Apaches, closely followed by the Chinooks, then any other helicopter they can bring down. They don't worry so much about airstrikes from fixed-wing aircraft since they still figure to be able to get out from underneath a bomb, but the helicopters can hover and therefore catch them as they pop back out their holes; even the venerable (ie old and slow) A-10 isn't much use against an enemy doing gopher impressions.

Unless these expensive big boys' toys can be set to run over a random route every time, it won't take the bad guys long to figure out 'safe' ambush points. While the soft pink squidgy thing in a conventional heli would maneuver the heck out of Dodge and find another route PDQ, poor old Gort will just continue on into the curtain of lead and the bad guys will suddenly have a nice gift handed to them.

Hmm, maybe the USMC intend to stuff RoboHeli with a load of MREs - that'd soon teach the buggers to stop shooting 'em down!

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ICUAS?

Hmm. That's a silly acronym.

I think

I mediate

C argo

A erial

R elay

U nmanned

S ystem

would be better.

Don't you?

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Pirate

Slight problem

One glitch in this otherwise excellent plan is what happens to an unprotected chopper when it comes down in transit, given that unlike trucks it's likely to be crossing enemy-held territory. You've then just resupplied the enemy. I hope they're seriously considering fitting a bit of explosive and a remote-control detonator to all payloads.

It's also not quite as revolutionary an idea as has been suggested, given that troops have been resupplied by parachute drop since WWII. Granted, those parachutes haven't been remotely guided to their destinations, but that's a well-solved problem, and a parachute with a few motors pulling on the lines is a whole lot cheaper than a helicopter. Yes it needs a Hercules or similar to fly over and throw the stuff out, but we've already got those around.

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Bronze badge

What sort of robot?

When we talk about "robot" flying machines, we're still talking about something with a human pilot, who just happens to be somewhere else.

And modern radio-control helicopters are a lot easier to fly. We're not talking about the same need for highly-skilled pilots flying something that wants to fall out of the sky. But it might be a demanding enough job to satisfy the fighter jocks. These remote pilots will be an elite.

Incidentally, the K-Max has a very strong resemblance to the Flettner Fl 282 Kolibri.

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Joke

@Am I dumb or what ...

seems to me that any hole in a blimp would see it carrering around the landscape on a very random course with helium gas farting out of the hole

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Blimps

@MadonnaC

Modern LTA's use compartments. You need a lot of firepower to bring one down. Better to aim for the cabin and take out the flight crew / electronics.

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Anonymous Coward

Getting Carried Away Again

The mission is not to replace trucks. There is no way helicopters could deliver the tonnage that a column of trucks can. This is to quickly deliver much needed material into hostile areas --- and also to possibly rendezvous with remote teams to deliver material and evacuate injured personnel. It can operate at night in hostile environments. If it can drop a few bombs to distract the enemy on the way in or out so much the better. Or am I getting carried as well ;)

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Silver badge
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Re: @Am I dumb or what ... #

Priceless image lol. Double gratz for not holding back and using the verb farting.

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