Naval Air: Robochoppers Turned Into Maritime Recon Aircraft


January 18, 2013: The U.S. Navy is paying $33.3 million to have the RDR-1700 maritime-surveillance radar installed on nine of its MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter UAVs. The contract stipulates that the work be completed by the end of the year, as the navy wants to use this new capability as soon as possible. The 32 kg (71 pound) RDR-1700 operates in a 360 degree mount underneath the helicopter. This is a SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) system that shows objects on the water in a photorealistic way. The max range of this SAR is 80 kilometers, although for the most detailed resolution max range is 25 kilometers. SAR can see through clouds and even sand storms (which sometimes blow out over coastal waters). The RDR-1700 can also be used over land for terrain mapping or for weather detection. The software enables the radar to track up to twenty surface or aerial objects at a time. The RDR-1700 would be operated from the ship it took off from and provide longer range search and reconnaissance capability at night and in bad weather. This would be particularly useful in the Persian Gulf (where Iran uses a lot of small but heavily armed speed boats) or off the Somali coast (where pirates like to operate at night with multiple speedboats stalking a larger ship). The U.S. Navy has been equipping frigates and destroyers with one or two MQ-8Bs. The navy currently has 27 MQ-8s.

The 1.4 ton MQ-8 is based on the 1.5 ton Schweitzer 330 manned helicopter. The MQ-8B can carry 90 kg (200 pounds) of sensors and weapons. It has an endurance of eight hours and a cruise speed of 200 kilometers an hour. The MQ-8B can carry the Griffin (a 16 kg/35 pound guided missile with a range of 8,000 meters) and the 11.4 kg (25 pound) 70mm guided missile (based on the World War II era 70mm unguided rocket) with a range of 6,000 meters.