Warplanes: August 5, 2004


The air force is testing the limits of the currently popular preference for high speed development and production of systems, by offering to buy 30 "Hunter-Killer" UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles) for $10 million each from the manufacturer who can convince them that they can deliver within three years. 

The UCAV must have a weapons payload of 3,000 pounds, and be able to carry, at a minimum, four GBU-12 (500 pound laser-guided bombs), or four GBU-38 (500-pound GPS guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions, JDAMs), or a mix of both. The UCAV must also carry several sensors, including synthetic aperture radar; ground moving target indicator radar; forward looking infrared system; daylight and night videocams; a laser ranging and designation system, as well as other "multispectral sensors."

The UCAV must be equipped to send sensor data to ground stations via line of sight and satellite link, and be able to use those same links for controlling the aircraft. The aircraft must be capable flying itself to any designated point on the planet and land on a bare base (a suitable length of straight highway would do.) The UCAV must have an endurance of 30 hours per sortie. The aircraft components should be currently available items, or stuff that will be ready for regular use in the next two years. In other words, delaying introduction of the UCAV because some component is not yet ready for prime time, is not an option. 

The cost of a complete system (two aircraft, one ground station, one launch and recovery station and support equipment), must be $30 million, or less. If the aircraft is delivered on time, and performs as it should, the air force will probably double the order to 60 aircraft. 

The air force wants this new combat UAV fast because its the kind of aircraft that would be very useful in the war on terrorism. Army Special Forces troops, in particular, often find themselves out in the middle of nowhere and occasionally in need of a smart bomb or two. The new UCAC would be the perfect aircraft to supply that service. Currently, the air force has to send a very expensive heavy bomber (B-1, B-2 or B-52) to provide that kind of support. 


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