When we hear about military robots, it usually evokes images of Terminator-like killing machines, but it can also mean robotic systems designed to help soldiers concentrate on the job at hand. Case in point is Israel-based Duke Airborne Systems’ Robotic Weapon System (RWS). Unveiled at the Eurosatory defense industry show in Paris, the system billed as a “first-of-its-kind” is a concealable robotic gunnery module that allows utility helicopters to fly into hostile territory without an armed escort.

The Duke RWS is a land-based gunnery system that has been adapted for helicopters. Made of light aerospace materials, it’s designed to be installed in a standard utility helicopter without the need for any structural changes to the aircraft. According to Duke, the modular kit takes up only a third of the cargo space next to the door, while leaving room for up to 12 fully-armed soldiers, though the company’s renderings make clear that it’s a snug fit with a full load.

The focus of the RWS is its electric 25 mm machine gun with up to 2,000 rounds that can include bursting, armor-piercing, and air-burst munitions. When not in use, the gun retracts completely inside the helicopter, so there’s no drag, and no indication of the hidden firepower to warn the enemy. The gun itself is mounted on a 7-axis robotic system that compensates for helicopter movement and vibration, and provides 360-degree firing capability.

With the gun is a multi-spectral vision system for day/night operations and automatic target tracking. In addition, the RWS has gunfire-locating sensors that can detect weapon fire and quickly direct suppressing fire at the source.

Duke says that the RWS is designed to not interfere with the helicopter’s normal operations. It deploys automatically on command using a set of robotic arms that takes the gun from the cargo hold to a docking plate under the fuselage. Power, communications, and ammunition remain inside the helicopter and feed to the gun. The system does not need a gunner. Instead, the RWS is robotic, automatic, and is controlled by the pilot using a tablet interface. Should an emergency arise, the system can be easily jettisoned by the pilot.

"The development of the system was based on thorough and in-depth research as well as extensive know-how and experience in the area of weapon systems and their integration on aircraft," says Sagiv Aharon, Founder and CEO of Duke Airborne Systems. "Now that we have accomplished a major milestone in the development of the technology, the next step will be to create partnerships with leading companies in order to achieve complete market readiness."

The following animation demonstrates the Duke RWS.

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