Warplanes: The Constant Contender

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December 7, 2013: American military aircraft companies often come up with unusual concepts, get them working in prototype form, and try, often successfully, to get interest and orders for the new idea. Such was the case with Northrup Grumman when it announced it had rigged its Bat UAV with a miniaturized APR-39 radar detector and jammer. Older, and heavier, versions of APR-39 have been around since the 1990s and equip many military aircraft. In a UAV the APR-39 could be used to clear the way for manned aircraft (especially helicopters) by detecting enemy air defense radars and jamming (or at least distracting) them. As clever as the concept is, it may not help sell the BAT because this is not the first time Bat has been fitted with special equipment to make it more attractive to buyers.

Back in 2009 a Bat UAV was fitted with communications relay equipment so that ground units (especially those operating in mountainous terrain) could get much more range out of their radios (whose signals are often blocked by mountains). These tests with the communications relay gear were a success and were performed for an "unnamed government customer" (most likely SOCOM or CIA, although the army and marines are also potential users). All sorts of aircraft and even balloons have been fitted with relay gear, but there were apparently no sales for BAT doing this.

Earlier in 2009, Northrup Grumman bought the Bat UAV design from Raytheon (which continued to develop UAVs with the unique Bat design). Earlier Bat had been known as Killerbee but Raytheon renamed it as Bat and began scaling up the original 19.5 kg (43 pound), two meter (6.5 feet) wingspan model to others with wingspans up to 10 meters (33 feet).

The Bat is a unique design, using a blended wing (like the B-2 bomber). The Bat family of UAVs is competing to snag the contract to be one of the few standard Department of Defense UAV models. Raytheon had bought the Bat line from the original developer, Swift Engineering, in the belief that Bat could be a contender. Raytheon still believes that the Bat design has a shot at being a major player in the military UAV market, but its unique design has yet to demonstrate a decisive superiority over more conventional shapes (like the Predator, Raven, and so on).

 


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