Archive for Thursday, April 19, 2007

Aerial vehicle being tested in Kansas for military use

April 19, 2007

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— A Canadian firm is coming to Kansas next month to conduct further tests on an unmanned aerial vehicle being developed for use by the military to drop cargo to troops in the field.

Officially called the CQ-10A "SnowGoose," the new UAV built by Ottawa, Canada-based Mist Mobility Integrated Systems Technology Inc. is designed to help the military get supplies to units in remote locations with minimal risk.

"This is a brand-new machine. Traditionally, they are used for reconnaissance and communications. This is the first time for cargo," said Chuck Jarnot, a consultant for MMIST in Kansas.

Next month, the company will spend three days testing the SnowGoose at the Kansas National Guard's Great Plains Joint Training Center west of Salina. It is the first project to take advantage of an offer made last fall by Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the state's adjutant general, for companies to consider Kansas to come test and develop UAVs.

"We meant what we said and they took us up on it," Bunting said. "It's our airspace that's a national treasure."

The SnowGoose up close

The UAV has a payload of 1,400 pounds, including six bins capable of holding 500 pounds of supplies, communications, sensors or cameras. The range can be extended by reducing the cargo amount and increasing the fuel load. A complete system with two aircraft and launch system runs $800,000.

The SnowGoose is designed to be air launched from the back of a military cargo plane, either a C-17 or C-130. It also could be launched out of the back of a modified Humvee. A parachute deploys and a 110-hp engine kicks in. The SnowGoose then flies to within a few hundred feet of the ground and drops supplies to awaiting troops.

"It doesn't need a runway, just a relatively short run on a road or the ground," Jarnot said.

The SnowGoose is supporting an Army research project and not for the company's own benefit, Jarnot said. The Army is picking up the cost of research and development. The cargo fleet is relatively small compared with the Army's other UAV fleets.

"The military is sensitive about cost, but this aircraft, pound for pound, is a third the cost of the Army's Shadow, its most popular UAV," Jarnot said.

Widely used

Each branch of the military uses UAVs for various purposes, such as reconnaissance and communications. On any given day, it is estimated that more than 100 are in the skies above Iraq monitoring troops and the battlefield. The U.S. Army's Special Operations Command in Florida is pushing the SnowGoose research and development.

Jarnot spent five months last year integrating the SnowGoose in Afghanistan. It also is in use in Iraq.

SnowGoose is a tool in the Army's counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. In such operations, there often are a number of friendly units, usually squad sized or smaller, dispersed over a wide area. They need water and have to be resupplied each day.

"We call this the FedEx model - many small packages frequently delivered," Jarnot said. "You can do it at night without giving the position away. Unlike a Black Hawk, which gives the unit away and becomes a target itself, this aircraft is designed to be very discreet, at-night resupply platform."

Why Kansas?

Jarnot said the company chose Kansas primarily because of the initiative by Bunting and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to encourage UAV developers to come to the state. In October, the state hosted a UAV symposium, attended by MMIST, touting Kansas' attributes, including its aviation history and work force.

MMIST is also considering locating a training site in Herington, where crews could be trained to operate the SnowGoose five days a week, using civilian airspace.

"The wide open Kansas air spaces at our weapons range in Salina make it the ideal site for such test flights," Bunting said. "There are a number of nearby facilities there and other locations where personnel can be trained in the use of such equipment."

Bunting said the SnowGoose could be used in homeland security applications, such as tracking hazardous materials, biological threats or getting supplies and communications to residents following a disaster.

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