Warplanes: Europe Develops Robotic Warplanes

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March 27, 2006: In Europe, several robotic warplanes ( the Neuron, the Barrakuda and the Corax) are under development. These UACV (Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicles) concepts began in the Untied States, but Europe wants to remain competitive with the U.S. military aircraft industry. All three programs include stealth features, and aim on playing in the same league as the American J-UCAS (Joint Unmanned Combat Aerial System). This program includes the Boeing X45C and the Northrop Grumman X47B Pegasus . These European projects are the first foreign competitors for the American robotic warplane work.

The Neuron project is a six nation European effort, which is for research, not development of a system for regular service. Instead , the $480 million project should only produce a flying prototype by 2010. This effort should keep the European aerospace design offices busy and maintain and further improve their know how for upcoming years. In this timeframe no new tactical combat aircraft programs will be launched in Europe, due to the recent introduction of the Eurofighter and the Rafale. The work on the Neuron should establish a cooperative network of European industrial teams, capable of integrating advanced technologies in a single manned or unmanned platform for replacement of existing systems after 2030.

The Barrakuda project is already several steps ahead of the Neuron project. The joint German-Spanish, and possible Swiss, Barrakuda conducted first taxi tests on the 26 January 2006. The aircraft has a wingspan of 29 feet and an overall length of 31 feet, with a projected weight of 5.5 tons. Although the producing company EADS describes the Barrakuda rather as a test bed for new technologies, than an already frozen design, the program might be the first step towards a replacement of the German reconnaissance Tornados after 2010.

The last competitor within this European group is the British Corax UACV. The UK perceives the Joint Strike Fighter as the last manned platform for its Air Force, which will eventually replaced by an UCAV. The Corax, which undertook its maiden flight already in 2004, is as a technology demonstrator a first milestone towards the development of a series model to replace manned platforms at the end of their expected life cycle around 2030 to 2050. - Joachim Hofbauer

 


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