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Troops In Afghanistan Supplied By Robot Helicopter

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the johnny-copter dept.

The Military 140

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Pakistan is still blockading NATO war supplies passing through the port of Karachi in response to last month's killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers by an alliance air strike. But inside Afghanistan, supply lines are about to get a lot safer for NATO's logisticians as an unmanned helicopter just delivered a sling-load of beans, bullets, and band-aids to Marines at an undisclosed base in Afghanistan marking the first time a drone has been used to resupply a unit at war. The 2.5-ton, GPS-guided K-MAX can heft 3.5 tons of cargo about 250 miles up and over the rugged and mountainous terrain of Afghanistan across which NATO troops are scattered and can fly around the clock. 'Most of the [K-MAX] missions will be conducted at night and at higher altitudes,' says Marine Capt. Caleb Joiner, a K-MAX operator. 'This will allow us to keep out of small-arms range.' K-MAX will soon be joined in Afghanistan by Lockheed's robo jeep that can carry a half a ton of supplies for up to 125 miles after being delivered to the field in a CH-47 or CH-53 helo."

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So... (1, Interesting)

Moheeheeko (1682914) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453388)

If we have a robo-chopper big enough to carry all that.....why not just put guns on the robo-chopper and send it in?

Re:So... (5, Insightful)

narkosys (110639) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453648)

Never seen a K-Max have you: http://www.kamanaero.com/helicopters/kmax.html [kamanaero.com]

It is a very narrow single seat helicopter. It can carry heavy loads due to it using two main rotors as opposed to the usual main rotor/tail rotor combination. The ones in the story just happened to be modified to run unmanned.

Re:So... (1)

quickgold192 (1014925) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454080)

All in due time, Moheeheeko. Right now drones are very susceptible to jamming and satellite failures. Helicopter pilots navigate primarily using ground reference, which robots aren't good at yet. We need a backup to GPS and TACAN. Delivering beans to the wrong location isn't really a problem - just an inconvenience, really. Delivering live weapons (as in, shooting) to the wrong area would result in enough of a public outcry to push the entire unmanned program back a decade.

Re:So... (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454294)

".which robots aren't good at yet."

not true at all. we have missiles and other auto navigate devices that use terrain references only. In fact, I was surprised to find out the drone we lost didn't use that for specifically the reason we lost it.

3.5 tons of cargo 250 miles? (2)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454284)

That's about 3 hours of flight time. So people avoid the chopper for 3 hours and then come back after it runs our of fuel and goes away.

You need boots on the ground to hold something.

For cargo though I'd have thought something like this would be better:
http://www.hybridairvehicles.com/ [hybridairvehicles.com]

Re:So... (2)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38455004)

If we have a robo-chopper big enough to carry all that.....why not just put guns on the robo-chopper and send it in?

Send it in to do what, exactly?

Re:So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38455116)

To kill everybody.

AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453390)

Meanwhile, my kid's school can't afford to hire enough teacher for every class.

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453524)

Protip: Don't believe everything the American Federation of Teachers says about necessary student:teacher ratios.

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453812)

Protip: Don't believe everything the American Federation of Teachers says about necessary student:teacher ratios.

THIS. "Teachers" lie, especially when it comes to how effective/efficient they are. In the past 20 years, the "price" of education in the USA has gone up over 200% on a per-pupil basis (and the students sure as hell aren't 200% smarter to show for it). When you wonder where the money is going, ask yourself how the "average" school spends over 350,000 per year to educate ONE classroom of students. Sure, the teachers need to get paid, the building needs to be kept in decent repair, but where the FUCK is all that money going? One place it goes is to the superintendent whose salary is probably well into the six figures, and they are probably doing a shitty job of managing (just ask the unions!)

No, robot helicopters are not robbing your child of a good education. The pathetic excuse for a "traditional school system" with it's cronyism and union corruption is.

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (-1)

Viewsonic (584922) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453960)

I think I got dumber by reading this.

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (5, Insightful)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454028)

Protip: Don't believe everything the American Federation of Teachers says about necessary student:teacher ratios.

THIS. "Teachers" lie, especially when it comes to how effective/efficient they are. ...Sure, the teachers need to get paid, the building needs to be kept in decent repair, but where the FUCK is all that money going? One place it goes is to the superintendent whose salary is probably well into the six figures, and they are probably doing a shitty job of managing (just ask the unions!)

So your premise is that "Teachers lie" and to prove it, you use an example of an overpaid superintendent who teachers have no control over (and who is supposed to be in charge of the teachers).

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (2, Insightful)

Anthony Mouse (1927662) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454196)

I believe the point is that we have enough money going to the schools already, but it isn't going to the right places. So the solution is not "more money" but "stop wasting the money you already have."

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (1)

misexistentialist (1537887) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454884)

They are in it together. The more teachers, the higher their salaries, the more upper managers, the higher their salaries.

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38455772)

If the teachers really wanted to change the amount spent on administration, they could tell their union to get it done and it would be so (unions basically make every decision in the public school system). Instead, the teachers are happy with the unions since they lobby for generous compensation packages and job security, and the unions keep the administrators from getting upset by guaranteeing THEM even more generous compensation and job security. Everyone wins, except the taxpayers who have to food the ridiculous bill, oh and the taxpayer's kids who have to suffer through 12/13/14 years of a school system designed solely to keep teachers paid and employed, and has nothing to do with making kids into smart and well adjusted adults (that, of course, we blame on the parents).

Get the facts, they are all over the place if you just open your eyes and look. Public education is horrifyingly broken.

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (3, Insightful)

GreatBunzinni (642500) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454386)

THIS. "Teachers" lie, especially when it comes to how effective/efficient they are. In the past 20 years, the "price" of education in the USA has gone up over 200% on a per-pupil basis (and the students sure as hell aren't 200% smarter to show for it).

Do you know what it means for the price going up over 200% in 20 years? It means that the average inflation rate was around 3.5%. How is that such a shocking cost hike?

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (1)

fnj (64210) | more than 2 years ago | (#38455202)

Not quite. 200% represents a tripling ($100 becomes $300; the difference is $200, or 200%). The present value of $300 over 20 years at about 5.65% is $100. But, oh wait. Inflation has averaged only about 3% over the last 20 years.

Guess what? The future value of $100, in 20 years at a rate of 3%, is about $180.60. So $80.60 of the increase is due to inflation, and $119.40 of it was due to something else. I'd call that a pretty severe dysfunction.

References:
Annual Inflation Chart [inflationdata.com]
Present Value Calculator [moneychimp.com]

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38455280)

but where the FUCK is all that money going?

As you yourself point out, the money generally goes to the administration. Sometimes it gets excessively spent on extracurricular activities; I don't think such things are a waste, if your goal is to educate then keeping kids in school and out of juvi is a desirable thing, but sometimes too much gets spent on one program or another that really ought to be doing more to support itself to the detriment of other programs or indeed, basic education. But teachers, lying? Mostly not.

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (1, Troll)

Roachie (2180772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453632)

Protip: Perhaps you should relocate to a district where they design and manufacture say, robotic helicopters?

US spends more money per student ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453776)

In the US we spend more money per student than any other county. Problems like the one you describe occur because too much money disappears into administration. You probably have no money for a new teacher's salary because administrators wanted to redecorate one of their offices.

That said, you really need to work much harder on your silly flame bait, its not supposed to be so obvious.

Re:US spends more money per student ... (2)

rmstar (114746) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454306)

You probably have no money for a new teacher's salary because administrators wanted to redecorate one of their offices.

Hm, no, more likely the money is sinking into some private company owned by a friend of a legislator.

Re:AMERICA (school system) FUCK YEA!! (2)

drainbramage (588291) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453852)

[Meanwhile, my kid's school can't afford to hire enough teacher for every class.] But they do have more employees than students.
(State of Washington)
Its been so much better since D.C. took control.

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (1)

jon3k (691256) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454388)

Meanwhile Khan Academy offers basically a complete curriculum for free. The model of teaching in this country needs to change dramatically. Why are we not using technology to teach our kids not only less expensively, but more effectively? Let students work at their own page with teachers there to assist as necessary. Then maybe break kids out in groups based on their pace to interact and work collectively. We haven't changed how we teach our children in this country in probably 200 years. We can do this better.

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38454538)

Khan Academy is an awesome resource, but if you think it is anything resembling a "complete curriculum" or even a reasonable substitute for classroom learning you're delusional.

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (2)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454608)

Don't forget about our affordable healthcare that is available to everyone.

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454620)

Take it up with the source of your schools funding - your local taxing district.

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (2)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454676)

my kid's school can't afford to hire enough teacher for every class.

Funding probably ain't the issue. With a few obvious exceptions, America's under-performing schools are among the best-funded in the world. Throwing even more money at the problem is almost as stupid as our children.

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454854)

Meanwhile, my kid's school can't afford to hire enough teacher for every class.

The whole point of this thing is to save money. It costs about $1M / year to keep one soldier in a combat theater. Whether those savings are used back home or for more adventures abroad depends on who gets voted into office.

Re:AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (3, Informative)

Solandri (704621) | more than 2 years ago | (#38455470)

U.S. spending on K-12 education per student [mercatus.org] is the second highest in the world (adjusted for local cost of living, PPP). If your kid's school can't afford to hire enough teachers, the problem isn't because they lack funding.

What? (2)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453402)

Is the fact that it is flying out of small-arms fire somehow unusual? Why wouldn't our resupply helicopters already fly high?

Re:What? (4, Informative)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453526)

Because they can't. Helicopters can't generate enough lift to fly out of the way of small arms fire without great difficulty in general. And in places like Afghanistan that are in the mountains and the people firing the small arms get closer they aren't able to.

Re:What? (1)

narkosys (110639) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453772)

Depends on the helicopter. I do believe an A-Star landed on the top of Mount Everest though from what i remember reading it was very tough to do. The less air pressure the less lift, and as in Afghanistan the hotter the air the less air mass available to generate lift. Hell on a hot day in Vancouver, with full manifold pressure in a Bell 47 (think the helicopters you see in M*A*S*H) I was hovering 3 inches off the ground. I have taken said helicopter (built in 1956 btw) To 6500 feet ASL without any problems. Larger helicopter can, and do fly higher. There are just special procedures and considerations when flying over 10000 feet ASL and higher.

Re:What? (1)

fnj (64210) | more than 2 years ago | (#38455222)

Oxygen for the flight crew being one of them.

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453554)

I was pondering this as well, and wondering exactly how easy it is to land that sort of thing at a remote outpost when there'll be a lag time between the drone sending data and the flight operator receiving it and then again for the operator's commands to reach the drone.

After Googling an old BBC article [bbc.co.uk] it seems the drone hovers over the area and then drops the supplies with a parachute. I'm guessing that to get the supplies to land as close as possible to the guys waiting for them you've got to lower your altitude a fair bit and hover overhead to get the right mix of bang-on-target and low wind, and that could make it vulnerable to nearby insurgents hiding in the rocks. Last thing you want is a drone crashing down on top of the guys you're resupplying.

Compare that to a standard chopper which could either land much faster with the onboard pilot experiencing and reacting in real time or which would just chuck the supplies out the back at a higher altitude and hope the marines don't get jumped when they venture out to get them.

Re:What? (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453760)

What are you talking about? Trained reaction time of a simple response is on the order of 150-200ms. If you actually have to think about what the response needs to be, you're looking at significantly longer. A digital autopilot with sufficient sensor data will outperform a pilot in every operating condition it is programmed for. It will be able to land much faster and more precisely than a human pilot, under varying wind conditions. The problem is the autopilot is not adaptive to operate in situations it is not programmed to. It is not "creative" to react in novel ways.

Re:What? (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454076)

What he is talking about is a remotely piloted vehicle, rather than the largely (or completely) autonomous vehicle you are describing. I suspect the KMAX is autonomous rather than merely remotely piloted, but then again, I didn't RTFA (yet).

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38454236)

What he is talking about is a remotely piloted vehicle, rather than the largely (or completely) autonomous vehicle you are describing.

That is exactly what I was talking about. The BBC article said that "A ground based operator using a laptop is able to control the aircraft" so I took it to be largely remotely operated rather than completely "launch and forget" autonomous.

Re:What? (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454428)

If it's something they can control with just a laptop in the field, I would interpret that to mean "largely autonomous" and the operator just says "go to coordinates x,y,z" and then click "land there". At worst , it's entirely auto-stabilized and the pilot just says left,right,up,down,forward,backward. Either way, reaction time isn't going to be a big deal. We gave up on remotely-operated manually-stabilized craft long ago (heck, even manned craft are automatically stabilized a lot of the time now).

Re:What? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38455242)

Pilots are trained to do X when Y arises, so most of the time they're supposed to be operating on training anyway. The real problem is getting all that sensor data into the aircraft in a way in which it can actually be used.

Re:What? (1)

nmos (25822) | more than 2 years ago | (#38455530)

Because dropping supplies from 10K feet is likely to crack a few eggs?

Robots! (1)

i kan reed (749298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453414)

Just in case you were afraid of a little humanity being left in war.

Re:Robots! (2)

Solandri (704621) | more than 2 years ago | (#38455550)

Not if everyone has robots! Then we can have robots fight robots. Maybe in the future, global conflicts will be resolved via LAN party in a mutually agreed-upon FPS!

GPS-guided? (5, Funny)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453430)

The 2.5-ton, GPS-guided K-MAX ...

Great, soon we'll be accidentally feeding Iran [slashdot.org] .

Re:GPS-guided? (1)

clyde_cadiddlehopper (1052112) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453574)

Iran spoofed GPS signals and tricked the drone to land, undamaged, where they wanted it to land. What prevents someone them from doing the same (or far worse) with Homeland Security drones in the US?

Re:GPS-guided? (2)

jdastrup (1075795) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453668)

correction:

Iran CLAIMS TO HAVE spoofed GPS signals and tricked the drone to land, undamaged, where they wanted it to land. What prevents someone them from doing the same (or far worse) with Homeland Security drones in the US?

Re:GPS-guided? (1)

RicktheBrick (588466) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454298)

How could the drone not know that the signal was coming from a ground based transmitter? The signal should have been greatly muted by the skin of the radar evading drone. I think it is very suspicious that they even knew that the drone was there in the first place. Something is horribly wrong here.

Re:GPS-guided? (3, Interesting)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454962)

How could the drone not know that the signal was coming from a ground based transmitter? The signal should have been greatly muted by the skin of the radar evading drone. I think it is very suspicious that they even knew that the drone was there in the first place. Something is horribly wrong here.

Here's a more likely explanation: Something on the drone malfunctioned, causing it to lose power and glide to the ground. Iranians found it on the ground shortly thereafter, took it to their favorite gymnasium, and came up with a story that makes them look good.

Re:GPS-guided? (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38455644)

More likely it's a styrofoam model made by some kids

Re:GPS-guided? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38455632)

correction:

Osama bil Laden claims to have knock down the Twin Towers...

Re:GPS-guided? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453716)

The FCC, of course! The perpetrators would be fined for illegal radio frequency use. Meanwhile, once the media gets wind of the "downed" drone occurring on American soil, it will be deemed a terrorist act, so the House and Senate would immediately begin crafting the "No Drone Left Behind Act."

Re:GPS-guided? (1)

EdZ (755139) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454112)

Iran spoofed GPS signals and tricked the drone to land, undamaged, where they wanted it to land. What prevents someone them from doing the same (or far worse) with Homeland Security drones in the US?

About 11,500 km.

Re:GPS-guided? (1)

quickgold192 (1014925) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454130)

No. They didn't. GPS is but one of many redundant navigation systems the drone had. If the GPS is disagreeing with the INS and airspeed sensors, it would drop the GPS signal in a heartbeat. And those are only the unclassified navigation systems that all military aircraft have. If Iran was capable of tricking the drone into landing, they wouldn't need to send the drone to China to be exploited.

Conventional design (3, Interesting)

Dan East (318230) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453456)

I wonder why the design is so conventional looking? They must have modified an existing light helicopter for remote control. Either that or the standard cockpit style helicopter design is already the most efficient aerodynamically. I was expecting to see what amounted to an engine and gas tank that can fly.

Re:Conventional design (2)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453508)

As the start specifically designing carries for robot only, the design will changes.
3 generation they will barely be recognizable.

Re:Conventional design (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453698)

Could go either way. Its either going to still look like a typical helicopter (like the Global Hawk still appears more like a manned aircraft) or much more specialized, similar to how the Predator and Reaper drones look nothing like a traditional aircraft.

Re:Conventional design (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453846)

Predator and Reaper look nothing like traditional aircraft? Beg pardon? Sure, the tail control surfaces are in unusual (but not unprecedented) configurations, but they've still got the nose/body/tail, with wings on either side thing down pat. They look an awful lot like traditional aircraft.

Re:Conventional design (2)

KhabaLox (1906148) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453888)

3 generation they will barely be recognizable.

Not true. We'll recognize them from the Terminator movies.

Re:Conventional design (2)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453616)

Why did cars start out looking like horseless carriages?

Re:Conventional design (4, Informative)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453618)

The base airframe (Kaman K-MAX) has been operational since 1991.

In terms of FAA certification, it's a lot easier to modify an existing certified platform than to create a new one.

That's why, for example, you see so many different variants of the Sikorsky S-70/H-60 Blackhawk/Seahawk/Pavehawk/otherhawk

Re:Conventional design (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453626)

They probably hired Grant Imahara from Mythbusters to modify existing helicopters

Re:Conventional design (2)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453638)

Probably because they figured that a) they had existing design specs to accommodate a human pilot, b) you can transport people that way, and c), if the enemy is using fancy jamming techniques, a pilot can hop in and to the task manually.

Re:Conventional design (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453642)

"Originally designed as a manned civilian craft, K-MAX has been modified by Lockheed to operate with or without a pilot onboard."

Re:Conventional design (1)

GreatBunzinni (642500) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453652)

The design is "conventional looking" because the Kaman K-MAX [wikipedia.org] is a conventional helicopter. If you look closelly you can see the cockpit, with a human pilot seat and human pilot controls. This is a conventional commercial helicopter, specifically designed for the task of transporting heavy loads, which had some of it's production models fitted with extra gear to also be usable as an unmanned aircraft.

Re:Conventional design (1)

narkosys (110639) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453848)

They did modify an existing heavy lift helicopter. Though as you can see form my earlier post the K-MAX is not that standard looking to say a Jetranger or other helicopter that uses a standard main/tail rotor combination. The K-max is small compared to the usual medium or heavy lift helicopters but it can lift a crap tonne due to it's rotor configuration which is why it is used a lot in the logging, mining and oil industries

Perfectly reasonable approach (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453490)

Keeps personnel away from threats in dangerous areas. Might have a few vulerabilities if they are radio jammed, though. Hope built-in evasive tactics are better than for that captured drone.

Re:Perfectly reasonable approach (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453710)

You mean you hope it has more brains than "GPS signal lost; landing". Who the fark sends in unmanned robotics systems without the ability to dead reckon or navigate via an alternative external landmark (stars/land topography)?

Re:Perfectly reasonable approach (1)

Bucky24 (1943328) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454012)

Who the fark sends in unmanned robotics systems without the ability to dead reckon or navigate via an alternative external landmark (stars/land topography)?

Forgive my ignorance, but do we actually have that kind of technology?

Re:Perfectly reasonable approach (3, Informative)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454104)

The SR-71 Blackbird used stars for navigational reference, as it was in service before GPS was available. Cruise missiles have used landmarks for low-altitude "scudrunning" since their inception.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celestial_navigation [wikipedia.org]

As early as the mid-1960s, advanced electronic and computer systems had evolved enabling navigators to obtain automated celestial sight fixes. These systems were used aboard both ships as well as US Air Force aircraft, and were highly accurate, able to lock onto up to 11 stars (even in daytime) and resolve the craft's position to less than 300 feet (91 m). The SR-71 high-speed reconnaissance aircraft was one example of an aircraft that used automated celestial navigation. These rare systems were expensive, however, and the few that remain in use today are regarded as backups to more reliable satellite positioning systems.

Celestial navigation continues to be used by private yachtsmen, and particularly by long-distance cruising yachts around the world. For small cruising boat crews, celestial navigation is generally considered an essential skill when venturing beyond visual range of land. Although GPS (Global Positioning System) technology is reliable, offshore yachtsmen use celestial navigation as either a primary navigational tool or as a backup.

Strategic ballistic nuclear missiles use celestial navigation to check and correct their course (initially set using internal gyroscopes) while outside the Earth's atmosphere. The immunity to jamming signals is the main driver behind this apparently archaic technique.

Emphasis mine.

Re:Perfectly reasonable approach (2)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454190)

Forgive the reply to myself. Here is one of the original astrocompass systems used in the B-52 for celestial navigation.

Automatic Astro Compass Type MD-1
http://www.prc68.com/I/MD1.shtml [prc68.com]

If you want to go see one for yourself, they're on display: "There are B-52s on static display, that should have MD-1 systems at: Travis, Castle, March and Edwards fields in CA."

I should point out that, while these used to be expensive mechanical systems, most of this can be done with software and properly calibrated and redundant CCD sensors.

Re:Perfectly reasonable approach (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38455266)

I should point out that, while these used to be expensive mechanical systems, most of this can be done with software and properly calibrated and redundant CCD sensors.

In fact, while these used to be heavy and power-hungry mechanical systems, most of this can be done with lightweight and versatile systems that not only have a smaller power budget and take up far less mass, but which can be installed in a fixed rather than floating context which is more durable, and which can track multiple stars and deliver (in some cases) multiple position fixes per second where earlier systems, like that on the SR-71, only [officially?] provide one to a few per minute. Even better, the new systems use IR filters and can operate during the day even down to sea level.

I just looked up celestial navigation systems the other day out of curiosity :)

Re:Perfectly reasonable approach (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 2 years ago | (#38455330)

I just looked up celestial navigation systems the other day out of curiosity :)

Me too! I'm assuming that current celestial navigation systems are solid state? Are they available for purchase? Or just for military applications? Details are appreciated =)

Re:Perfectly reasonable approach (1)

Bucky24 (1943328) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454220)

Cool! Thanks for the info.

Re:Perfectly reasonable approach (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454288)

Almost forgot, not only is there celestial navigation, but also a whole set of tools use can use with accelerometers and gyroscopes to do inertial navigation. While not as good as celestial navigation, inertial navigation is useful when you can't rely on exterior navigation references for a period of time. As the time increases from the moment of initializing your reference point, so grows the errors in your position due to integration drift. Therefore inertial navigation is only useful for short periods of time.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inertial_navigation [wikipedia.org]

Enjoy!

Re:Perfectly reasonable approach (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454474)

As others have said, celestial navigation has been used for as long as men have looked up at the stars. In fact, every scientific satellite put in space has some sort of "star tracker" telescope to use as an absolute position/pointing reference. There is even a group at NASA working on (open-source, I think) software to both miniaturize the technology for handheld terrestrial use and to generalize it for use on other planets--when astronauts go to the Moon and Mars, they won't have any GPS at all but one of these gizmos to figure out where they are.

Re:Perfectly reasonable approach (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454766)

Ever hear of a cruise missile? [wikipedia.org]

Re:Perfectly reasonable approach (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454836)

Forgive my ignorance, but do we actually have that kind of technology?

Pretty sure that actually pre-dated GPS. MPEG came out of terrain-following research for the Tomahawk missile IIRC.

GPS spoofing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453496)

Works great until Iran or China or somebody spoofs the GPS and collects all the goodies that it was transporting.

Re:GPS spoofing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453664)

Have you ever had an MRE? Tricking Iran or China into capturing 3 tons of them is perhaps the smartest idea our military has come up with in 50 years.

Re:GPS spoofing (1)

Shatrat (855151) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454164)

I have, they're pretty damn good actually. Were you eating the shoe polish?

Re:GPS spoofing (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454266)

Have you ever had an MRE?

Yes, actually I have. Aside from the fact that MREs are frikken heavy compared to freeze dried food, I'd much rather take them than Mountain House food (and the like) when backpacking or camping.

I guess (2)

Roachie (2180772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453610)

The creepy robotic mule had the day off.

One down one more to go. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453688)

If the drone helicopter thing works out, we would not need our frenemy Pakistan for deliveries. That is one down.

If we can fuel them without depending on Saudi Arabia, then we can breath a sigh of relief.

Re:One down one more to go. (1)

dave562 (969951) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453922)

We will always need Pakistan. Diesel fuel is too heavy to fly into the AO given the rate at which it is consumed. There would have to be a steady convoy of helicopters flying 24/7 to provide the fuel needed.

Re:One down one more to go. (1)

KhabaLox (1906148) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453926)

Resupply through Pakistan is not very relevant to this story. The lede is a red herring. Those supply routes are for the huge quantities of oil and other supplies the entire NATO/US army needs. This helicopter is doing small, unit-sized resupply runs to remote outposts.

If only the enemy would... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453736)

...start developing their own robo-drones, and arming those...then both sides could send robots to fight each other, and leave the humans out of the mess. ESPN could pick up the matches (er, 'battles') and broadcast them with top brass doing colour-commentary. Oh ya, we could monetize the heck out of this. Maybe the arms manufacturers could put big logos on all their component parts.

"The Iranians have deployed their battledroids with Browning MK II Ion Lasers, but they should be at a serious disadvantage versus the new Fabrique National GallopingGatling-equipped American bots, George. This could be a rough season...er, war, for the Iranians."
"I wouldn't count on that yet, Bob, if we cut to the view from Bandar Abbas, you can just make out some crates of Remington Droidraper high-speed rail cannons entering the Iranian supply lines. Thos frontline bots are one quick pitstop away from some game-changing firepower once those bad babies arrive here!"
-cue commercial break-

Re:If only the enemy would... (1)

Anthony Mouse (1927662) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454484)

If only. The problem is that the difficulty of modern war isn't to kill as many enemy soldiers as possible until they surrender. It's: OK NATO, you "won." But if you leave then warlords and extremists will take over, so you have to stay for several years and keep order during the time it takes to rebuild the country, hold elections and train a local police force not loyal to the previous dictator, and in the meantime insurgents are going to be lobbing IEDs at you and building their bases under hospitals to make you look bad when you blow them up.

That is one ugly helicopter (1)

james_van (2241758) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453756)

I get the whole function over form thing, and I appreciate it most of the time. Heck, I was in the military, so I completely understand that function comes first. But that is one seriously stupid looking helicopter. Maybe other people like it, and if you do, that's fine. But I think it looks like it was designed by herp and derp. Couldn't they have modified a Bell 222 or something cool looking?

Re:That is one ugly helicopter (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454352)

Sure...it would just be easier to shoot down (because it's wider), couldn't carry as much load, and wouldn't be able to operate at as high an altitude, which is kind of important in places like Afghanistan. Helicopters designed for heavy lifting generally are not as svelte as helicopters designed as status symbols for CEOs. As the Shorts Brothers said in reply to someone criticizing the looks of their (phenomenal, but ugly) cargo airplanes, "If you want to ship something, you put it in a box, right?"

Re:That is one ugly helicopter (1)

jon3k (691256) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454438)

It's based on a real helicopter [wikipedia.org] . So it's form over function in the sense that it was designed to carry a pilot. If the airframe was designed from the ground up to not carry a pilot it would look significantly different I'm sure.

Fatigue. (1)

das3cr (780388) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453802)

Hopefully this will allow human operators to get by with a little less fatigue. Lesson their op tempo a little.

And do more with less. In this case, we have a need to deliver more cargo and we have won't need as many pilots to do it.

Re:Fatigue. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453844)

You lost the war. Get over it.

Nice toys but... (4, Insightful)

nojayuk (567177) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454098)

A few things to note...

These remote-piloted helicopters and "flying jeeps" are being deployed in testing because they are thought to be safer methods of resupply than an 11-B driving a truck. This indicates that in Afghanistan, after almost ten years of occupation (longer than the Soviets stayed) most of the country is considered too dangerous for the occupiers to move freely in.

The second point is that these neat toys don't provide mass logistics supply to the forces in Afghanistan from friendly countries, the convoys of fuel tankers, food and ammunition, the thousands of tonnes of supplies needed each day to keep a modern military force operational. The US yahoos who blew up a bunch of Pakistani troops has cost the NATO forces that safe border convoy route and no technological tricks will restore that conduit. Abject apologies and reparations might help but this is the US who don't apologize for slaughtering other people's troops even by accident.

Third point, following on from the second is keeping these remotely-piloted aircraft flying is expensive in fuel terms. A truck will burn ten or fifteen gallons of gas or fuel oil to get ten tonnes of supplies a hundred miles. A helicopter burns a lot more fuel to cover the same distance with a much smaller load, and the fuel convoys across the Pakistani border have been shut down after the "accident". The only way to get that fuel into Afghanistan now is to fly it into airbases and that's both a logistical nightmare and also dollar-expensive.

Amen (1)

Radical Moderate (563286) | more than 2 years ago | (#38455406)

Considering the Army is heavily investing in solar because getting fuel in theater is insanely expensive, shipping via helicopter doesn't sound like it's going to scale very well. Can't afford to fix Medicare, but let's keep shipping billions to Afghanistan, where there's not even a hint of light at the end of the tunnel.

Re:Nice toys but... (0)

jafac (1449) | more than 2 years ago | (#38455584)

Maybe the US will apologize when Pakistan formally apologizes for sheltering Osama bin Laden for 10 years, running the Taliban as a proxy organization from the ISI, and staging the Mumbai terrorist attack.

I think that the only reason the US considers them an "ally" is because it is vaguely convenient. The only reason Pakistan considers the US an "ally" is because the US pays them a shitload of money. Liars on both sides. Which is probably why karma is fucking both sides up the ass.

Re:Nice toys but... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38455770)

Maybe the US will apologize when Pakistan formally apologizes for sheltering Osama bin Laden for 10 years, ...

Ah... the 2 wrongs make a right defense.

When you dun goofed, you apologise. It doesn't matter if the other side are dicks, you're also a dick if you don't (i.e. you lose the moral high ground).

Re:Nice toys but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38455690)

don't you mean an 88M? just saying...

Stopgap measures. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38454168)

Once we have fully robotic soldiers that can fuel themselves from local energy sources, and repair themselves and nano-fab their own bullets using local materials, these will be museum pieces.

Calm it down, folks. (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454418)

I realise it's an emotive issue, but step back from the politics for a moment. Yes, really.

We live in a world with autonomous flying robots. Self-piloting helicopters that can fly to a location, do stuff, and fly home. Do you know what this means?

Flying cars. That's right, bitches. Flying cars, Real Soon Now.

It was worth the wait.

Great. But a couple of thoughts (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454932)

1) it should blow itself AND THE CARGO up if it goes down anyplace EXCEPT where it is supposed to land.
2) we should be working on beaming energy. With that approach, we could provide energy into a FOB without sending loads of fuel.
3) by beaming energy, we can also focus on electric weapons. Laser and rail guns make more sense than a round.

Re:Great. But a couple of thoughts (1)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38455514)

1) it should blow itself AND THE CARGO up if it goes down anyplace EXCEPT where it is supposed to land.

That would rather depend on what the cargo is, don't you think? Certainly any passengers on board wouldn't be happy with your arrangement.

2) we should be working on beaming energy. With that approach, we could provide energy into a FOB without sending loads of fuel.

Beamed energy requires a line of sight, which means it won't work over the horizon or through a mountain.

On the other hand, the military already does use "beamed energy" from the sun to cut down on its fuel usage. When fuel costs $400 per gallon [wsj.com] , the cost-benefit decision for running your camp off solar panels gets really easy to make.

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