The U.S. Army is using a hybrid-type acquisition approach to develop a helicopter-like, Vertical-Take-Off-and-Landing Unmanned Aerial System with a so-called ARGUS wide-area surveillance sensor suite designed to beam back information and images of the surrounding terrain, service officials said.
Beginning in May or June of 2012, the Army will deploy three Boeing-built A160 Hummingbird Vertical-Take-Off-and-Landing Unmanned Aerial Systems, or VTOL-UAS, to Afghanistan as part of a Quick Reaction Capability
One key characteristic that sets these unmanned air vehicles apart from others, such as the Predator, already more famously serving in the war zone is that the Hummingbirds are rotorcraft–that is, they fly like helicopters rather than planes.
The Hummingbirds will be equipped with DARPA’s Argus-IS sensor system, which features a 1.8-gigapixel color camera–gear that the Army a year ago described as “the largest video sensor ever used to conduct tactical missions.” The Army said at the time that Argus can track people and vehicles from altitudes above 20,000 feet and, attached to an A160, should be able to scan almost 25 square miles. It will allow operators to scan a wide field of view and download images in real time.
This represents a big technological leap over current airborne surveillance systems…Those that deliver high-resolution images are limited to very small fields of view…and those covering broader areas provide low-resolution imagery.
In addition, ARGUS-IS operators on the ground can designate “windows” around up to 65 specific sites or targets they want to monitor. They can choose buildings, road intersections or other fixed locations the system will “stare” at, or people or vehicles to trail, even if they’re moving in different directions.
“And if you have a bunch of people leaving a place at the same time, they no longer have to say, ‘Do I follow vehicle one, two, three or four'” [Argus program manager Brian] Leininger said. “They can say, ‘I will follow all of them, simultaneously and automatically.'”
The Boeing-built Hummingbirds, which can fly for 12 hours at a stretch, are now set to arrive in May or June of next year. Initial deployment had apparently been intended for the first half of 2011.