08 April 2012

The MQ8B Fire Scout Robot Helicopter Outfitted with Multi Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS) To Hunt Down Pirates

The Office Of Naval Research (ONR) announced that it will outift it's robotic helicopter, The Fire Scout, with advanced imaging systems to combat piracy in the open seas.

The Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) system is one of the proud vehicles in the Navy's arsenal. It provides unprecedented situation awareness and precision targeting support for the U.S. Navy of the future.

The Fire Scout was developed for use by the United States Armed Forces by the Aerospace Systems Division of the Northrop Grumman Corporation.

The MQ8B Fire Scout is based on a Schweizer Aircraft commercial airframe with over 20 million flight hours. The vehicle incorporates reliable turbine power (160 million flight hours) using standard NATO heavy fuel. Leveraging from this FAA certified aircraft with commonality of over 50 percent of the mechanical parts, the servicing and logistical processes are well known, proven and documented. This "low risk" approach for the airframe allows effective maturation of the entire system within a short development schedule.

The system includes advanced Control Stations that encompass the U.S. Navy’s Tactical Control System (TCS), Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL), and robust communications. A modular mission payload capability allows continued growth into new payloads, and a highly reliable air vehicle meets or exceeds all performance criteria.

With a total endurance of over 8 hours, the Fire Scout can provide more than 6 hours time on station with a standard payload at 110 nautical miles (200 km) from the launch site. A system of two Fire Scouts can provide continuous coverage at 110 nm. Utilizing a payload that includes electro-optical/infrared sensor with laser rangefinder/illuminator and a maritime radar, the Fire Scout can find and identify tactical targets, track and illuminate targets, accurately provide targeting data to strike platforms and perform battle damage assessment.

Video: Ultimate Weapons: The Fire Scout

The MQ-8B Fire Scout has the ability to autonomously take off and land on any aviation-capable warship and at prepared and unprepared landing zones in proximity to the soldier in contact.

Pirates, Beware: Navy’s Smart Robocopters Will Spy You in the Crowd

Navy unmanned aircraft will be able to distinguish small pirate boats from other vessels when an Office of Naval Research (ONR)-funded sensor starts airborne tests this summer, officials said April 5.

Called the Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS), the sensor is a mix of high-definition cameras, mid-wave infrared sensors and laser-radar (LADAR) technology. It will be placed on a robotic helicopter called Fire Scout. Carrying advanced automatic target recognition software, the sensor prototype will allow Fire Scout to autonomously identify small boats on the water, reducing the workload of Sailors operating it from control stations aboard Navy ships.

“Sailors who control robotic systems can become overloaded with data, often sifting through hours of streaming video searching for a single ship,” said Ken Heeke, program officer in ONR’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department. “The automatic target recognition software gives Fire Scout the ability to distinguish target boats in congested coastal waters using LADAR, and it sends that information to human operators, who can then analyze those vessels in a 3-D picture.”

Navy-developed target recognition algorithms aboard Fire Scout will exploit the 3-D data collected by the LADAR, utilizing a long-range, high-res, eye-safe laser. The software compares the 3-D imagery to vessel templates or schematics stored in the system’s memory.

“The 3-D data gives you a leg up on target identification,” said Dean Cook, principal investigator for the MMSS program at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD). “Infrared and visible cameras produce 2-D pictures, and objects in them can be difficult to automatically identify. With LADAR data, each pixel corresponds to a 3-D point in space, so the automatic target recognition algorithm can calculate the dimensions of an object and compare them to those in a database.”

The algorithms have been successfully tested in shore-based systems against vessels at sea. The software is being integrated into a BRITE Star II turret by a team from NAWCWD, Raytheon, FLIR Systems, BAE Systems and Utah State University for airborne testing aboard a manned test helicopter. The flight assessment will be conducted against groups of approximately seven small boats in a military sea range off the California coast later this summer.


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