Last Updated 4/20/09 6:58 PM
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UAV Helicopter Brings Finesse to Airstrikes

One shot, one kill, zero pilot. That's the goal of the Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System, a new unmanned helicopter that's controlled with an adapted Xbox 360 controller.
Published in the May 2009 issue.



Vigilante 502 Unmanned Helicopter
+ Max Weight: 1100 pounds + Length: 26 feet + Rotor Diameter: 23 feet + Top Speed: 117 mph + Payload: 150 pounds + Fuel Capacity: 36 gallons + Flight Time: 6-plus hours
RND Manufacturing Edge 2000 Rifle
+ Cartridge: Lapua Magnum .338 + Weight: 14 pounds + Action: Gas-operated semiautomatic + Muzzle Velocity: 3000 feet per second with 250-grain bullet + Rate of Fire: Up to 10 carefully aimed shots per minute + Ammunition Cost: $4 per round

In modern warfare, the advantage often goes to guerrillas who can attack, then quickly hide among the population or disappear into the hills. To counter those tactics, the Pentagon since 2001 has been arming unmanned aerial vehicles to identify and destroy targets with missiles. The Defense Department is seeking weapons for UAVs that can strike enemies but limit collateral damage, especially in cities.

The Army’s solution is the Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System (ARSS), a small, unmanned helicopter equipped with a powerful .338-caliber rifle. An autopilot system handles the tricky business of flying while the operator lines up the kill shot on a remote monitor.

The Army ground-tested the rifle’s turret on a Vigilante unmanned helicopter to evaluate its accuracy. The turret-control hardware and flight-control algorithms will be refined to make shots more accurate before airborne testing begins in July. The program’s heads say the airborne robo-sniper idea was put forward five years ago, but only became practical when Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory designed a lightweight, stabilized turret. Users control it with an adapted Xbox 360 controller. The same turret could be used on unmanned fixed-wing aircraft such as the Predator or Reaper and could also allow ground robots to fire on the move.

Other Possible Weapons for the ARSS

+ M249 5.56-mm squad automatic weapon, a small-caliber machine gun
+ M240 7.62-mm machine gun, a weapon used by the U.S. and NATO
+ AA-12 12-gauge, a full-auto shotgun
+ Peak Beam Immobilizer, a xenon strobe light that stuns targets with “psycho-physical” effects like disorientation and nausea

Reader Comments
13. RE: UAV Helicopter Brings Finesse to Airstrikes
i think the main issue in afghanistan is the enemy hides behind rocks and trees ,i think weapons that have an air burst capability would really help .we need ones that cover large areas like 50 feet accross that can be fired from vehicles .these helicopters i would think will be noisy and very vulnerable to ground fire ,but xbox controller should be the way to go as many of us grew up with them and could get really skilled with the system

12. RE: UAV Helicopter Brings Finesse to Airstrikes
Game and war? It's a machine. It needs input. A controller is a convenient means to do so. There have been remote craft since before Atari, so quit being so alarmist.

11. Aim
I thing a grave mistake is being made by trying to adapt a console aiming system to this. Analog XBox controls are good for certain types of play, but if you want to be able to pick people off at a distance, a simple mouse will give much better results. Watch computer game headshot videos and compare them to the "autoaim" assisted stuff from Halo and you'll see what I mean. This is why console gamers don't want Keyboard/Mouse adapters for the PS3 and XBox, they would no longer be able to be competitive and lounge around on the couch. But for military precision a Belkin Nostromo t52 and a Razer Copperhead could pick people off at range a LOT better than someone using their thumbs and a d-pad. XBox - good for piloting a rover around, bad for precision aiming even if it is more "familiar" at first.

10. RE: UAV Helicopter Brings Finesse to Airstrikes
The gun turret looks to be mounted a long way from the centre of gravity, so the recoil from each bullet will change the aiming point. An automatic rifle makes sense, but mounting a machine gun is idiotic. Also: vibration?

9. RE: UAV Helicopter Brings Finesse to Airstrikes
Frequency jammer? Do you really think that Al Qaeda operatives are going to pack something like that, along with batteries, just in case one of these flies through their mountains?

8. RE: UAV Helicopter Brings Finesse to Airstrikes
This is defeniately the future of modern warfare, 117mph top speed is impressive too.

7. RE: frequency jamming
@ 3: Actually, you're mostly wrong about vulnerabilities to jamming. Although it is true that given a very powerful transmitter, you could theoretically jam any signal, these sorts of transmitters tend to lack portability. There are a myriad of modern wireless comms methods that use very wideband signals with PN sequences (like CDMA!): jamming becomes largely impractical as an effective defense in these cases: there's just too much signal to jam!

6. @ Comment # 2
Yeah, cause God knows using a video game controller is the same as pulling the trigger on a gun and feeling the recoil.

5. RE: UAV Helicopter Brings Finesse to Airstrikes
Sorry #1, but a GPS device would not assist in theft. If left unguarded, we'd be freely giving away millions of dollars of R&D; to anyone wanting to buy this from the local street gangs. Not to mention, GPS doesn't work indoors, underground, etc etc. We'd never get them back. ... and with the capabilities it has, I'm sure it can autopilot back to base if it begins getting jammed or loses contact with the controllers.

4. RE: UAV Helicopter Brings Finesse to Airstrikes
How do these things propose to sneak up on terrorists without tipping them off by their engine noise? If I were a terrorist,and heard a loud buzzing,I would duck into the nearest shelter.

3. RE: UAV Helicopter Brings Finesse to Airstrikes
this sort of device is completely vulnerable to a frequency jammer.. I can see use of this when snipers need to hit a target from above but have no physical pedestal to do so.

2. RE: UAV Helicopter Brings Finesse to Airstrikes
"Users control it with an adapted Xbox 360 controller." Great- the line between game and war gets even fuzzier.

1. RE: UAV Helicopter Brings Finesse to Airstrikes
It seems like the possibilities with this sort of technology is wasted on the elaborate and high tech. Stick several of these on top of buildings and let one guy in a safe location operate them. You could cover a large amount of territory with trained but not highly trained people. Part of being a good sniper is being able to shoot accurately and without wobbling all over the place like humans do. This pulls humans out of that part of the problem. Add a GPS tracker in case of "theft" and it would be easy to have cover fire by other units anyway.

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