By David Crane
defrev (at) gmail (dot) com
Image(s) Credit: Lockheed Martin
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September 9, 2013
Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is currently in the process of working with with Piasecki Aircraft of X49A Speedhawk compound helicopter fame (among other aircraft projects) to design and develope a ducted-fan airborne tactical vehicle called Transformer (TX) (or Transformer TX) for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and, ultimately, U.S. military infantry warfighters.
Basically, DARPA wants to go full-on "Jetsons" on the enemy, creating a world where infantry soldiers can fly and then drive themselves to and from a fight with either VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) or STOVL (Short Take-Off and Landing) capability in semi-autonomous fashion, hopefully with some kind of emergency parachute system, just in case something goes wrong with the vehicle at some point, wink, wink. Not that that would ever happen. Look how easy a program the V-22/MV-22 Osprey project has been. Piece of cake–and yes, DefenseReview is being sarcastic.
DARPA's original goal for Transformer (TX) was the following:
The objective of the Transformer (TX) program is to demonstrate a 1- to 4-person transportation vehicle that can drive and fly, thus enabling the warfighter to avoid water, difficult terrain, and road obstructions as well as IED and ambush threats. The vehicle will be capable of driving on prepared surface and light off-road conditions, while flight functionality will require Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL).
That's all great, but if they're going to do this, why not start with a tracked vehicle like an updated/upgraded/modernized and airborne-optimized, reduced-size M113 Gavin-type vehicle (essentially a modular armored box on tracks) like the IMI Urban Fighter APC/IFV capable of accepting serious weapons and a modular armor package similar to the Rafael M-TAPS modular multi-threat vehicle armor protection system, so you can really fight and carry a serious load over ALL terrain, especially once you're back on the ground? Even if you can't fly with a fully-loaded M113-type tracked vehicle, you could air-drop part of the load and then load the vehicle up on the ground. Part of an upgraded, size-reduced and aerodynamically-optimized M113-type tracked vehicle package would include goodies like rubber band tracks with advanced suspension and an air-conditioned interior for riding comfort.
Both infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) and personnel carrier-type tracked tactical vehicles could be developed. Perhaps the ducted-fan propulsion system could be combined with auto-extending and folding wings for additional lift and longer-range flight. The point is, if you're gonna' do it (true military combat with real off-road capability), why not really do it? With rubber band tracks, and advanced suspension system and the right engine, you can get an M113 going 80+ mph down the highway, and at least 50-60+ mph off-road, and a tracked vehicle can carry A LOT more load (including weapons and personnel) a lot more places with lower ground pressure than a wheeled vehicle. It's just physics.
That's not to say Defense Review doesn't like and support the concept behind ultra-lightweight tactical wheeled vehicles like the S&S Precision Stalker MPTV (Multi-Purpose Tactical Vehicle) powered parafoil combat assault vehicle, a flying fast-attack vehicle, if you will, and the the BC Customs SRTV-5, or "Search and Rescue Tactical Vehicle-5". We love those fast, agile, fun little things. We really do, especially for military Special Operations Forces (SOF) missions–but larger, more capable weaponized tracked combat vehicles are worth exploring and developing for Transformer TX if they are indeed intended for general infantry troops and serious all-terrain infantry combat applications.
DR's primary concern, aside from Lockheed/Piasecki Transformer TX flying combat vehicle's obvious technical challenges, is a ducted-fan air vehicle's lack of a helicopter's auto-rotation capability in case something goes wrong, all the more reason for an auto-deployed emergency parachute system feature in case of catastrophic failure.
Anyway, the following information comes directly from the Lockheed Martin website:
Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works® is leading a team with Piasecki Aircraft to develop the next generation of compact, high-speed vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) unmanned payload delivery systems under the Transformer program.
Transformer’s unique design could adapt to multiple missions with interchangeable payloads, including cargo pods, medical evacuation units, a tactical ground vehicle, armed scouts, and reconnaissance and strike capabilities. This flexibility combined with emerging autonomous unmanned air vehicle control systems could provide terrain-independent transportation and cargo supply capability to dispersed ground combat units.
When compared to a standard helicopter, Transformer’s tilting ducted fans allow for a safer operating environment in smaller landing zones with faster transit speeds of up to 200 knots."
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S&S Precison Stalker MPTV (Multi-Purpose Tactical Vehicle) Powered Parafoil Combat Assault Vehicle for Military Special Operations Forces (SOF): Up to 156 MPH on Land, and 61 Knots in the Air! (Photos!)
BC Customs (BCC) Search and Rescue Tactical Vehicle-5 (SRTV-5) Baja Racing-Type All-Terrain Combat Vehicle Armed/Weaponized with 7.62mm NATO Garwood Industries (GI) M134G Minigun/Gatling Gun: SXOR Mobility Vehicles Go Tactical for Military Special Operations Forces (SOF) Missions