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Great Gear — and When U.S. Troops Could Get It

Mar. 18, 2012 - 03:51PM   |  
By LANCE M. BACON   |   Comments
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — New gear grabbed attention at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Winter Symposium. Some improved on the current supply. Others leaped into next-generation technology, such as Sikorsky’s coaxial Raider helicopter.

Here is a look at some of this year’s hottest items:

Sikorsky Raider

This is not your grandpa’s helicopter. The prototype has two rotors that turn in opposite directions and a propeller on the back. And the capabilities that result are far above anything you’ve experienced.

Raider boasts a 150 percent increase in hover altitude. While high-hover in hot environments restricts current gunships to about 40 percent of Afghanistan, Raider would have access to more than 90 percent. It also doubles the mission speed and endurance of current gunships, reduces acoustic detection and turn radius by half and increases payload by 40 percent. The helicopter’s cruising speed is more than 230 mph. Top speed is far higher, as Raider is based on Sikorsky’s X2 Technology Demonstrator, which unofficially broke the rotorcraft speed record Sept. 15, 2010, by hitting nearly 300 mph. The world record was 249 mph.

Raider has a multimission capability and can fly as a gunship or carry six passengers, said Steve Engebretson, director of Sikorsky’s armed aerial scout program.

The coaxial rigid rotor system combined with pusher prop has improved on every attribute of vertical-lift performance and maneuverability, Engebretson said.

The coaxial rotors generate lift on two sides coming forward. Capturing all lift in a rigid system, and feathering the retreating blades, eliminates drag and other inefficiencies built into conventional helicopters to balance lift on both sides.

The clutched propeller takes tail rotor control authority to a new level. When disengaged, Raider flies like a normal helicopter, but far quieter because the tail rotor is the primary noise generator. When engaged, the propeller provides level body acceleration and deceleration. The copter doesn’t have to bend to get the rotor system into the air in order to accelerate, nor does it have to raise the nose to decelerate.

This capability also improves target engagement. Instead of ascending or descending to get the right angle to fire, Raider can hover or steadily accelerate in 20-degree nose-low or nose-high attitude. That means a pilot in a valley can fix guns on a ridge line, or vice versa, and close directly on the enemy.

The Army has said it won’t look for a new helicopter to replace the aged Kiowa fleet. Sikorsky hopes to show it can provide a far better one for what it would cost to recap the Kiowa.

Two prototypes are under construction and will be flying by 2014.

Armament: Can carry Hellfire missiles, .50-caliber and 7.62 mm machine guns.

Range: More than 375 miles.

Speed: More than 230 mph.

Missile Defense

As nations such as Iran develop their arsenals, Lockheed Martin continues to develop the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS).

The program hit a milestone in February when it launched integration testing on the third battle manager. The testing will continue through 2012, and a ballistic missile intercept test is planned at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., in 2013. The other battle managers are part of testing at Italy’s Pratica di Mare Air Force Base and in Orlando, Fla.

The transportable system is designed to intercept and destroy tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, UAVs and aircraft. But some lawmakers have the system in their sights.

The Senate Armed Services Committee wanted to cancel the program and shot down a 2012 Pentagon request for $407 million to finish developing the system. But early termination would have resulted in contract penalties of $800 million. Vocal and angry lawmakers approved $390 million with the requirement that no more than 25 percent could be spent until Defense Secretary Leon Panetta submits detailed plans that address Congress’ concerns. This year will likely be a make-or-break one for MEADS.

RTHD-2

Smartphone technology in the war fighter’s hands has been the talk of the town for the past 18 months. VT Miltope looks to end the discussion with its Rugged Tactical Handheld Device (RTHD-2).

The computer combines the capabilities of Linux, Android and Windows Mobile to share situational awareness data, said Wes Kephart, the company’s vice president of rugged systems program development.

The battery-operated system has a sunlight-readable 5-inch diagonal touch-screen display and six interface buttons.

And this is not a cellphone with plastic case. It meets all rugged requirements in any temperature, altitude or environment troops might face. It is a capability for which VT Miltope is well known. The company’s display tables included one rugged computer operating in 130-degree heat. Another had a constant flow of water pouring on it while another was getting zapped by lightning every other second.

RTHD-2 has embedded tactical-link modems and military GPS. Real estate is allocated for secure wireless devices that will let the device connect with secure 3G and 4G systems.

Special operations troops have already purchased a handful for current ops.

Weight: 1 pound.

Battery: Eight hours on one charge.

Lockheed Martin’s TRACER

Future operations and exercises will place troops in the dense foliage common to the Pacific. Under that thick canopy, a new tactical reconnaissance and counter-concealment-enabled radar (TRACER) will become a war fighter’s best friend.

TRACER can detect objects that are buried, camouflaged or concealed under dense foliage — double canopy with ease, and triple canopy with strength, said John Beck, Lockheed Martin’s manager of Transformation Programs.

The radar replaces Lockheed’s foliage penetration system, which completed more than 1,400 missions since 2005 in U.S. Southern Command, where counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance and drug interdiction operations are common. TRACER is one-third the weight and has increased the radar’s resolution, sensitivity and processing speed, providing up to 11 times greater coverage.

The synthetic-aperture radar identifies objects and terrain features such as trail networks that are otherwise hidden by vegetation, rain, darkness, dust storms or atmospheric haze. An expansion to two antennas allows the user to identify moving targets.

The radar fits on medium-class UAVs that circle the area from a distance.

Quantity: Four TRACER systems available for deployment; further tests scheduled this year.

Recon Scout XT

The Army’s Rapid Equipping Force ordered 1,100 Recon Scout XT “throwbots” for immediate deployment to Afghanistan. The robot, which resembles a small dumbbell, is designed to give soldiers a look inside buildings — or down a road or into a hole — using the built-in camera.

Soldiers simply throw it into a building, onto a roof, or somewhere else they’d like to explore from a distance.

The robot rights itself and is “driven” by remote control as its camera transmits what it sees back to a hand-held video screen that also serves as the remote steering device for the robot.

The robots will be delivered by this spring. About 300 are on their way to the war zone.

The order came after an initial field test proved soldiers found the robots useful downrange.

Dimensions: 8 inches long, 2 pounds.

Cost: About $13,000 each.

Quantity: 300 fielded, 1,100 ordered.

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