US Air Force UCAVs – fade to black

So now India plans to build an unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator. I’m not holding my breath, but I am wondering why the US Air Force withdrew from the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems programme, leaving the US Navy to carry on alone.

Perhaps my collegue Steve Trimble over on The Dew Line is correct and the USAF’s UCAV work has not stopped, but gone into the black world. It is hard to believe that its pioneering work with DARPA on the Boeing X-45A has simply been squandered.

Russia’s MiG says it will fly a UCAV demonstrator within two years. BAE Systems plans to fly the UK’s Taranis in 2010 and Europe’s Dassault-led Neuron is to fly in mid-2011. All are stealthy flying wings designed to attack heavily defended targets.

But Neuron, Taranis and MiG’s Skat are all playing catch-up to what was achieved – and seemingly discarded – with the X-45A. The US Navy plans a carrier demonstration of Northrop Grumman’s X-47B in 2011, but publicly the USAF has dropped UCAVs in favour of a new manned bomber. That looks likely to be only part of the story.

MiG’s Skat (For more mockup pictures, see Sergey Kuznetzov’s blog

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