MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. ― Officials have unveiled a built-to-scale model of a futuristic tilt-rotor drone that they hope meets the need for massive firepower and intelligence that Marines want to have their back or as their wingman in a fight.
The Bell V-247 Vigilant is an unmanned, armed escort that, if demonstrations prove out, could be the hub of both delivering its own payload or coordinating fires from air, land, sea, space, cyber and electronic warfare nodes.
And if you fold the wings, it fits in all the spaces a V-22 Osprey does with room to spare. It even takes up less room than a UH-1Y helicopter.
Bell is looking to meet the needs of the Marine Air Ground Task Force Unmanned Expeditionary drone, or MUX.
Marines want the MUX to do it all, but to start with: airborne early warning, command and control communications, digitally passing information, intelligence and reconnaissance and electronic warfare.
This drone may be able to carry 2,000 pounds internally and sling load up to 9,000 pounds. But with the use of comms and sensing tech the Marines see it as having a “bottomless magazine.”
That’s because, as was shown in multiple, detailed augmented reality displays, the drone would not only fire its payload but coordinate fires from manned jet fighters, ground-based troops either mounted or dismounted and ships at sea.
The up to 25,000-foot ceiling that the drone can reach would put it in the Group 5 category, the largest drone in the fleet and the largest the Corps has ever had organic to its ranks.
That same AR display also gave viewers visuals on how the drone can deploy from an LHA, DDG or be loaded on a C-5 and flown to a site.
And payload options mean that C-5 flight could include a big plane holding a large drone holding a swarm of other drones it can control.
Lockheed Martin cameras mounted to the drone also give the remote drone pilot a “distributed aperture” a feature on Bell’s V-280 Valor, a helicopter replacement for the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
The aperture feature allows those in the manned V-280, whether pilot or passenger, to see through the frame to any point around the aircraft.
Kind of like Wonder Woman’s invisible jet, only it’s only invisible to those inside, said Keith Flail, program manager with Bell.
With the aperture feature on the Vigilant, the remote pilot can see 360 degrees around the drone as they fly for increased situational awareness.
The Vigilant is in advanced research and design phase. But developers are using many of the lessons learned from the V-280 Valor for capabilities that the Marines want in their new drone request.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.