Electronic Weapons: The Sand Storm Solution


December 4, 2015: Since 2003 the U.S. Army has been working on all-weather navigation systems that would enable helicopters to find their way around when overtaken by sand or snow storms. The army believes it has a solution that should enter service by 2019. Earlier versions of this system have been flying since 2008 but finding and fixing lots of effectiveness and reliability problems kept delaying putting the system into service.

The effort to develop this tech came because since 2001 this kind of bad weather has killed over 150 pilots and passengers in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Over a billion dollars of helicopters were also lost. In 2012 the army thought it had a solution as it had ten UH-60 helicopters in Afghanistan equipped with a new 3-D radar system. This was HALS (Helicopter Autonomous Landing System), a light weight (45 kg/99 pounds) that gave pilots a 3-D picture of what was in front of the helicopter, no matter what actual visibility was. Snow, dust, sand, fog, and night can all hide small obstacles (especially wires or poles) that can cause a crash as a helicopter is taking off or landing. Since the 1990s about 20 percent of army helicopter crashes have been caused by storms because the pilots could not see obstacles. In Iraq, the most common danger was "brown out" (sand storm). Fog and, in Afghanistan, snow only adds to the problem.

The 2012 field tests indicated more work was needed and the development effort was continued. The army and SOCOM (Special Operations Command) believe HALS (a name since dropped) is about ready for use and plan to buy 169 systems for SOCOM helicopters.



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