The “Unmanned Systems North America” exhibition and conference was held in August 2007 by the Association of Unmanned Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI) at the Washington Convention Center was the Unmanned Systems industry’s largest gathering. The event was associated with the live demonstration of unmanned systems, where some 30 vehicles participated in the largest unmanned systems demonstration in history held on August 6, 2007 at the Webster Field Annex of Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, Md. The demonstration was hosted by the US Navy and Marine Corps Unmanned Systems unit PMA-263 which organized the event at Webster Field. AUVSI began with an impressive flight demonstration of 18 unmanned vehicles. First was the Shadow small UAV, followed by the first public demonstration of the Cobra, a small experimental UAV introduced by Raytheon. The Cobra was flown from Raytheon’s Multi-Vehicle Control System (MVCS).
Israel Aerospace Industries’ MALAT group actually demonstrated the simultaneous launch, flight and recovery of two I-View 50 Small UAVs. One of the I-Views was deployed from the truck mounted mobile launcher, also accommodating the control system, while the other bird took off from the runway. IAI also demonstrated two landing methods – the first aircraft used a parafoil recovery on a short strip, while the other was retrieved using the system’s automatic landing capability. Impressive demonstrations were provided by the Australian made Aerosonde, flown by AAI and the ScanEagle displayed by Insitu. Northrop Grumman demonstrated the latest model of the FireScout MQ-8B VTUAV, currently being tested by the US Navy at nearby Patuxent River.
The RQ-4N Global Hawk was also flown from the nearby Naval facility. Spectators could not see the UAV in flight, nor watch real-time imagery from the scene, but toward the end of the day, after some of the images were declassified by the Navy, Northrop Grumman showed examples of the images taken during the day. These included the flight line, display booths, and even some of the UAVs in flight, taken during the demonstrations by the aircraft circling an area over the ocean, about 60 nautical miles off the coast. Another UAV that provided continuous cover of the event throughout the day, was Aeronautics Aerostar, flown by PMA-263.
Different unmanned systems participated in a mock battle scenario, involving a team of marines, engaging insurgents in a simulated urban area. First in line was the MDARS from General Dynamics. As the robot patrolled the road, it was covered from the air by an Aerovironment Raven-B mini-UAV. Then, supported by two robots, a team of marines moved in. Suddenly, the team was engaged by enemy snipers! Taking cover behind a wall, they reacted, assessing the situation, using support from air and ground robots. One of these were the Foster Miller SWORDS, joining the team used as an unmanned scout, while an iRobot Pacbot, equipped with Red Owl sniper detection kit spotted the hostile shooters.
A miniature Nighthawk hand-launched UAV was tossed to patrol the area, while Adaptive Flight’s autonomous Hornet Micro UAS (derivative of the commercial T-Rex 450 radio-controlled helicopter) perched over the area, watching suspected enemy locations, providing the team with a real-time bird’s eye-view of the area. As IEDs were spotted, unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) were sent in, including the robotic Caterpilar 247B designed by ARA and remotely controlled HMMWV, equipped with tele-operated grappler to remove the threat. Once the enemy location was spotted by the Pacbot and UAVs, an armed SRWS moved in, aligned in position blocking the enemy’s escape route. Last but not least, a Remotec EOD robot moved in to deal with remaining unexploded IEDs and munitions left in the area.
Back at the convention center, the exhibition provided professionals with a vision of where the industry is heading, highlighting exotic futuristic designs, advanced materials and new sensors.
In recent years, as weaponized robots evolved from controversial science fiction into grim reality, particularly in the Middle East skies, new systems are being developed and deployed. The Sky Warriorand Reaper are representative systems pursued by the US Army and Air Force, based on the Predator platform. But some argue that payload capacity may not be the most important factor, as smaller aircraft such as the Sky Raider, designed for field operation could offer superior persistence, resulting in more opportunities to pursue time-critical targets of opportunity.
Another program dominating the show was the US Navy Broad Area Maritime Search (BAMS), which is expected to select an unmanned platform to augment and replace part of the Navy’s maritime surveillance aircraft in the next decade. The Navy considers three alternatives representing totally different solutions, based on the Global Hawk HALE from Northrop Grumman, the Mariner MALE UAV proposed by Lockheed Martin and General Atomics or an optionally piloted G550 platform from Boeing.
Topics covered in AUVSI 2007 review:
- Unmanned Systems – Flight and Ground Demonstration 2007
- UAV systems, including Combat UAVs
- Mini, Micro and Expendable UAV Systems
- The future USMC Tier II program
- High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) Platforms
- Unmanned Transport Vehicles
- Mission Control Systems & Applications
- Advanced payloads for unmanned Systems
- UGVs and Controls Systems