Companies in both the U.S. and Europe are forging ahead with technology demonstrations for unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV), but the military has yet to establish exactly what it wants from its future UCAVS. While this question remains unanswered, the development of production UCAVs will be delayed and budgets withheld.
Unmanned combat air vehicle
Having flown for the first time on May 29, Alenia Aeronautica’s Sky-X unmanned technology demonstrator is making its debut at the Dubai show, appearing in the static display. The Italian group is also hoping to attract regional orders for its C-27J transport, and ATR 42MP and ATR 72ASW maritime patrol platforms, models of which are on display at its stand (C301).
Saab’s stealthy unmanned FILUR demonstrator has now flown, revealed deputy CEO Ingmar Anderssen yesterday at the Dubai show. The event is a major milestone for Sweden’s UAV research program, which will be used in the design of future air vehicles and feed data into the major Neuron program.
Singapore Technologies Aerospace is seeking local or overseas partners for unmanned systems development. “We want to be a world-class niche player in this business, as we have become in the MRO field,” said Dr. Tan Jiak Kwang, the company’s director for advanced systems. Tan spoke at the Unmanned Systems Asia-Pacific 2006 conference. in Singapore on Sunday
BAE Systems hopes that up to three important UK contracts will be confirmed when British defense minister Des Browne visits the show tomorrow. Production deals for the Royal Air Force (RAF) Nimrod MRA.4 maritime patrol aircraft and the Hawk Mk128 Advanced Jet Trainer are overdue. BAE is also seeking government funds for a British unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) technology demonstration program that it would lead.
The key technologies being investigated in the current UCAV programs are advanced flight control for tail-less, blended-wing-body configurations; autonomous operation using reconfigurable software; open architecture avionics; secure datalinks; low-cost composite construction; and low observability (for example, stealth).
Having led the way with unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) concept demonstrations, the U.S. Air Force seems to be having second thoughts. Meanwhile, Europe is playing catch-up, but with three entirely separate UCAV demonstrators: the pan-European Neuron, the BAE Raven and the EADS Barracuda. Good technical progress is apparent, but debates about requirements, operational utility and cost are ongoing.
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