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Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle Unveiled

Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle Unveiled

By Tech. Sgt. Christopher Ball, Public Affairs.

Edwards Air Force Base, California – (AFMCNS) July 19, 2002 -- The newest in the military lineup of unmanned aerial vehicles was introduced to the public July 11 during a media day held at the NASA Dryden flight research center here.

Visitors gather in front of the two X-45A Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle concept demonstrators during the UCAV media day July 11 at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.  

Photo by Thomas Powell

The X-45A unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator, or UCAV, was shown to the media for the first time, and the program was explained by representatives from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, NASA and the Air Force.

A joint effort between the three agencies, the UCAV is the first unmanned aerial vehicle specifically designed for a combat role. The goal is to use them to find and destroy enemy anti-aircraft missiles, guns and radar. "It will be designed to go against the baddest threats out there," said Col. Michael Leahy, UCAV program director.

The idea is for the air vehicle to carry as many as 12 precision-guided bombs, fly up to 900 miles to a designated battlefield, spend 30 minutes over the field, then return to a home station.

Similar to the Global Hawk reconnaissance vehicle, the UCAV is a fully autonomous vehicle which will fly itself using preprogrammed computerized mission plans; however, the ground controllers can interface and change the aircraft's mission in flight. In a typical mission scenario, UCAVs would operate in packs, with up to four aircraft being monitored by one operator. The UCAVs would be able to communicate with each other, locate their targets and carry out their missions without any human intervention. Unlike other UAVs, the UCAV's control systems will allow the vehicle to make some decisions on its own.

"They don't have to come back to mom and say, 'Can I do that?'," Leahy said.

"They have the intent of the commander, and they exercise that intent."

As testing progresses with the X-45A, the designers are working on a "B-model," which will incorporate lessons learned from testing the present models. Expected to arrive sometime in 2004, the X-45B will be built as close to the operational aircraft as possible. It will be similar to the A-model, but will be larger, with a length of 32 feet and a wingspan of 47 feet, compared to the 26-foot-long X-45A. The B-model is also expected to carry up to 2,000 pounds of munitions and fly at 40,000 feet.

The ground controllers will have greater control over the aircraft during flight testing, but basically the X45-B aircraft demonstrator systems will be very close to what's intended for operational use.

"We can let it go hands-off, and it will do what it’s supposed to," said David Brands, the UCAV mission control lead operator.

According to program officials, there are several advantages of the UCAV over traditional manned combat aircraft. Designed primarily for air-to-ground suppression missions, UCAVs offer less risk and will be cheaper to operate and produce, because they are smaller and they are unmanned, eliminating the need for human safety factors. According to Boeing, the UCAVs are projected to cost up to 65 percent less to produce than future manned fighters, and 75 percent less to operate and maintain than current operational systems.

Currently housed at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, one of the two existing X45-A demonstrators completed its 14-minute first flight May 22, with a second, longer flight in June. The second aircraft is expected to begin flight testing sometime this fall.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).