DARPA Unveils Unmanned Drones To Assist War Zone Troops
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) unveiled Tuesday an update to its initiative to equip the US military with unmanned, modular drones that would conduct supply runs, reconnaissance and rescue missions, casualty evacuations and other essential services in hard-to-reach areas.
“US military experience has shown that rugged terrain and threats such as ambushes and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) can make ground-based transportation to and from the front lines a dangerous challenge,” DARPA said in its announcement, noting that combat outposts require on average 100,000 pounds of material each week.
High elevation and impassable mountain roads often restrict access to remote war zones. Although helicopters are a possible solution, DARPA said the supply can’t meet the demand for their services, which cover diverse operational needs such as resupply, tactical insertion and extraction, and casualty evacuation.
To address these challenges, DARPA unveiled its Transformer (TX) program in 2009, which sought to develop and demonstrate a prototype system that would provide “flexible, terrain-independent transportation for logistics, personnel transport and tactical support missions for small ground units.”
Last year, the agency selected the Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) design concept with which to move forward.
“Many missions require dedicated vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) assets, but most ground units don’t have their own helicopters,” said DARPA program manager Ashish Bagai. “ARES would make organic and versatile VTOL capability available to many more individual units.”
Bagai said DARPA’s goal is to provide flexible, terrain-independent transportation that avoids ground-based threats and facilitates expedited operations.
ARES centers on a VTOL flight module designed to operate as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of transporting diverse payloads. The flight module would have its own power system, fuel, digital flight controls and remote command-and-control interfaces. Twin tilting ducted fans would provide efficient hovering and landing capabilities in a compact configuration, with rapid conversion to high-speed cruise flight similar to small aircraft, DARPA said.
The system could use landing zones half the size of those typically required by similarly-sized helicopters, enabling ARES to land in rugged terrain and aboard ships.
DARPA said it envisions the flight module would travel between its home base and field operations to deliver and retrieve several different types of detachable mission modules, each designed for a specific purpose. These could include cargo pickup and delivery, casualty extraction and airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, for instance.
The ARES flight module would have a useful load capability of up to 3,000 pounds, more than 40 percent the takeoff gross weight of the aircraft. Military units would be able to direct an unmanned aerial system using apps on their mobile phones or “ruggedized” tablets.
Although the system would initially be unmanned, future capabilities would include semi-autonomous flight systems and user interfaces for optionally manned/controlled flight.
ARES is currently in its third and final phase, with Lockheed Martin Skunk Works managing the lead vehicle design and systems integration.