Warplanes: October 28, 2000

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Luftwaffe for use on Tornado and Typhoon fighters.--Stephen V Cole

CAREFUL, YOUR PARADIGM IS SHIFTING; Boeing has unveiled its X-45A Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle, which is expected to be the start of a major change in the way Air Forces conduct their missions. The day of the roll-out, 27 Sept 2000, will in future be known as the day that combat aviation changed forever. Boeing got the X-45A contract as a technology demonstrator, and plans to display as much technology as possible in order to get contracts for production vehicles. The X-45A is designed primarily for Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) missions, but can also undertake strike missions. Current plans call for a single operator to control up to four drones during a mission. One limit on the use of these drones is the number of very expensive ground stations available. If they were cheaper, it would be possible to have one pilot for each aircraft, although they would not be fully employed as much of an attack mission is relatively boring. The vehicles will conduct their missions in a network environment, allowing control over a given aircraft to be seamlessly handed over from one controller to another. One controller might handle aircraft departing from or arriving at a base, another might handle those in transit to the front lines, and a third might handle those actually over enemy territory. The X-45A is 26.5 feet long, has a wingspan of 33.8 feet, and stands 6.7 feet high on its landing gear. It weighs 8,000 pounds empty, but will take off at 15,000 pounds (including 3,000 pounds of weapons). The substructure is aluminum; the outer surface is a graphite-epoxy composite. The wings have a foam core wrapped in fabric and then impregnated with resin; the same technology is used to make surf boards. The wing structure is then coated in graphic epoxy composites. The wings can be detached for storage. Plans call for UCAVs to be stored for up to 20 years, being taken out for a test flight every five years. The X-45A has two internal weapons bays, but one of these will be used during the flight test for avionics and other instruments that would normally be mounted in the fuselage. Doing it this way allows the avionics pallet to be removed for inspection and testing between flights, saving a lot of money on the test program. The other bay can carry a single 1,000-pound bomb or six 250-pound bombs. On production aircraft, if there are any, both bays will be usable for weapons. The test aircraft include a nose camera to monitor take-offs and landings. The operational UCAV would have a range of about 650 nautical miles, but the two demonstrators will

 


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