DARPA calls for an unmanned A-10 — literally, perhaps



Since the moment on November 4, 2002, when a Hellfire-armed MQ-1 Predator whacked a car full of terrorists in Yemen, the idea was planted. It wouldn’t be long before armed, remotely piloted aircraft would be doing more than striking high value targets. They would be hovering somewhere over a gunfight, backing up the good guys with a laser-guided missile — in lieu of the A-10′s 30mm cannon. It’s actually already happening today, with the handful of MQ-9 Reapers sometimes being in the right place at the right time.

But the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is now seeking proposals for the unmanned component of a next generation close air support system. (Read my full article here.) It could be the US Air Force’s envisioned MQ-X aircraft, which will eventually replace the Reaper. Or, according to DARPA’s open-minded program managers, it could even be an unmanned version of the A-10 itself (MQA-10 anyone?).

Let no one fear, however, for the A-10′s longevity. The USAF doesn’t plan to replace the A-10 until at least 2027, and perhaps not even then. If you download this presentation (9054ThursdayTrack4Sorensen.pdf), and reference slide 32, you’ll see that there are still plans to insert new technologies into the manned A-10, whether it gets an unmanned partner or not.    

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10 Responses to DARPA calls for an unmanned A-10 — literally, perhaps

  1. ArkadyRenko 11 February, 2010 at 4:21 am #

    This plan makes perfect sense. With the proliferation of advanced Russian MANPADs, anywhere below 10,000 ft may become prohibitively dangerous for manned fighters.

    If the Army wants air support, even in environments that are too dangerous for a manned fighter, then you’re going to have to go with a UAV.

    Granted, the technical challenges are immense, but DARPA is responding to a new paradigm that airplanes will have to face in the future.

  2. glider 11 February, 2010 at 8:15 am #

    are we going to see spacecrafts or satellites doing pinpoint laser beam CAS under the growing pressure of manpads and/or S-300 alike clones?
    are we getting that sophisticated to deal with goat shepherds or confrontating with a different and tougher scenario?

  3. Uwe 11 February, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    Unmanned systems will promote terrorism
    and other asymmetric techniques as
    only viable countermeasure.

    The US will thus end like Byzantium
    as long as the stick of standoff warfare
    is not moved into the background and
    complemente by the carrot of mutual benefits
    as primary measure.

  4. Ed Otto Pernotto 11 February, 2010 at 4:07 pm #

    Stephen,
    for some reason, the pdf file says it’s got a problem and can’t open it

  5. MrSatyre 11 February, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

    I forget who said “No one hates war more than the warrior”, but I am growing more and more afraid that the further we distance ourselves from the battlefield, the more impersonal war will become—and war should always be as personal as a punch in the nose so that we never lose sight of the fact that it should always be a last and final resort. In order to maintain our moral highroad, we need to be a part of the necessary death and destruction so we never forget what it is really all about and find ourselves inflicting it on others from a safe distance with little thought to cause and effect.

  6. William C. 14 February, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    What a waste of time. You try sending that unmanned A-10 into a strafing run and you lose your connection…

    and your unmanned A-10 has just crashed into the ground.

  7. Tom R 28 March, 2010 at 7:25 pm #

    I have the nasty feeling that unmanned UCAVs will rapidly develop problems that will parallel the problems we have with manned systems–to be effective at night, in bad weather, be survivable against double-digit SAMs, etc, they will have to have more stuff in them or hanging on them. That will make them more expensive and therefore less affordable. The reasons the Predators et al are comparatively cheap–so far–are that they are comparatively simple–unmanned equivalents of Cessna 170s, and operating in permissive environments.

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  9. Mutuelle santé 16 September, 2010 at 7:22 am #

    It’s seems that the DARPA is preparing a new technology and era for the defense of our armies and strategies. The unmanned component seem a viable project and safeguard for tomorrow.

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