Warplanes: May 24, 2004


Although the U.S. Army cancelled its Comanche light combat helicopter program earlier this year, it has not abandoned the idea of building a new, smaller combat chopper to work with its AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships. The proposed solution is a three ton UCAR (Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft, in other words, an unmanned helicopter). The UCAR would have a half ton payload, allowing it to carry cameras, and some weapons like hundred pound Hellfire missiles. The army wants each Apache to have up to four UCARs working with it. The big problem with making a UCAR work effectively in combat, is developing the software that would enable an unmanned helicopter to safely fly close to the ground, which is where the Apache spends a lot of its time. The army will spend about $500 million between now and 2009, trying to get the UCAR software to work. Given all the money and effort currently being put into flight control software for UAVs and manned aircraft, the UCAR project has a good chance of succeeding. Otherwise, its half a billion bucks out the window, following the loss of $10 billion on the Comanche project. However, unlike the Comanche, which was costing $60 million per helicopter, the UCAR will come in at less than a third of that. 


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