PRODUCTION OF THE Hunter Joint Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (JTUAV) has been terminated, with the US Department of Defense (DoD) deciding to cut the overall number of UAVs and seek cheaper vehicles to meet mission requirements.

The Hunter, developed by TRW/Israel Aircraft Industries, failed to meet the US military's requirements, says DoD acquisition chief Paul Kaminski. He is instead supporting a smaller, more flexible and cost-effective vehicle being developed as part of the Tactical UAV (TUAV) project.

Two prototype Hunter systems and seven low-rate initial production systems (each with eight air vehicles, plus ground and mission-planning equipment) have been acquired, with a total cost to date of $667 million.

Plans had called for procurement of 50 Hunter systems worth $4.3 billion for the US Army, US Navy and US Marine Corps. Kaminski says that there will be no termination payments to prime contractor TRW.

Numerous crashes, including three in one month in 1995, had "some weight" on the decision to cancel further production, but Kaminski says that the fundamental problem with the Hunter centred on "organisational and requirements issues". He says that the Hunter's demise proves the need to establish the same type "of disciplined operational procedures" for UAVs which have been developed for manned aircraft.

One Hunter system will be kept flying at Fort Hood in Texas, to develop and refine UAV operational concepts.

TRW supports Kaminski's action as "a very positive step" which makes "best use" of the seven-year investment already made. The company adds that it also sees an opportunity to continue to support "...the needs of US Army commanders as they develop tactical doctrine and further uses for UAVs in tactical operations".

TRW hopes that the US services will "...renew their interest" in the JTUAV system, putting existing units into tactical service and possibly seeking further procurements.

Kaminski says that lessons learned from the failed Hunter programme will be applied to the TUAV and General Atomics Predator UAV projects. The aim is to give the TUAV a maximum range of 370km (200nm), a 4h loiter time, and a unit cost of only $350,000, which some contractors say will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

Kaminski believes, however, that there are bidders capable of achieving the TUAV goals. It was expected that the Pentagon would buy 100 TUAV systems, each with four air vehicles, but total procurement could drop to 55 systems.

Source: Flight International