The US Air Force is studying enhancements to the General Atomics RQ-1 Predator unmanned air vehicle (UAV), including equipping it with a more sophisticated radar as well as the Northrop Grumman Bat (Brilliant anti-tank) submunition.

The concept of operations (conops) proposal is being considered by the USAF's UAV Battlelab after tests on a Predator equipped with a tactical synthetic aperture radar featuring a moving target indicator mode. The Bat UAV ejection tube was tested using a Bell UH-1N helicopter as a Predator surrogate.

The tests proved the "Bat submunition can be integrated rapidly into UAV systems", says the company. It adds the system could improve response times against "fleeting" targets such as Scud missile launchers and mobile air defence systems. The baseline Bat, midway through its 1,300 unit production run, is an autonomous submunition equipped with passive acoustic and infrared sensors.

Industry sources say a decision adopting the enhanced Predator conops may depend on planned trials by the US Army and TRW of a Bat-equipped Hunter UAV. Unlike the USAF test, the army trial will "involve a real Hunter and a real Bat against moving targets".

The success of either test is likely to bolster Department of Defense support for the Bat P3I improvement programme, a planned block upgrade providing a capability to seek stationary and moving targets.

The upgrade is threatened, however, by apparent questions being raised over funding for the Block 2 variant of the US Army's ATACMS tactical missile system, a key Bat platform. Northrop Grumman is keen to widen Bat applications to offset criticisms it is limited to out-dated, cold-war scenarios involving operations against large-scale armoured formations.

Predator has also been used to launch a mini-UAV in-flight. General Atomics says the deployment of the 26kg (60lb) Flight Inserted Detector Expendable for Reconnaissance vehicle was made at 10,000ft (3,050m) over Edwards AFB, California, and was the first time "an operational UAV has shown the capability to carry and launch another UAV".

Source: Flight International