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  • If You Are Going to Spy on Me, Do It Quietly
    Posted by Graham Warwick 3:37 PM on Jul 20, 2011

    One thing unmanned aircraft are not, usually, is quiet. If they are quiet, because they use electric propulsion, they typically can't fly for long because the batteries run out. That's the driver behind the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency's (IARPA) new Great Horned Owl (GHO) program, which aims to develop technologies for quiet, long-endurance small UAVs.

    Announcing a proposers' day conference in Washington on Aug. 15, IARPA - the "DARPA" for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence - notes that the value of unmanned aircraft for surveillance "is dependent upon the ability of the UAV to do its mission without the adversary being able to counter it."

    blog post photo
    Photo: Art Siegel, via Wikipedia

    Great horned owls are not known for spying on people, but they are extraordinarily quiet. IARPA expects the GHO program will include hybrid electric propulsion to extend endurance, ducted props to reduce and channel propulsor noise, flight-control systems that manage airframe-generated noise, and communications systems that allow the small UAV to operate out of sight of the ground station.

    Noise can have its benefits, and in Iraq the lawnmower racket produced by the Honeywell T-Hawk ducted-fan "hover-and-stare" micro-UAV has proved useful in keeping streets clear by loudly declaring the vehicle's presence overhead. But covertly tracking "persons of interest" requires an undetectable vehicle that can stay on station for extended periods.

    At the same time the U.S. is moving to counter other people's UAVs, the Army is issuing an RFI for a Counter Unmanned Aerial System (CUAS) interceptor. The Army is looking for a system that can be fielded within two years of program start, with an interceptor costing no more $150,000 and hopefully less than $100,000. For pricing purposes, the Army foresees buying 10,000 missiles at a rate of 1,000 a year. Other options, including directed energy and hunter-killer UAVs, will be considered, the RFI says.

    Tags: ar99, unmanned, IARPA

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