The press conference confirming the demise of the Comanche was also notable for announcing the intention to increase substantially the funding for unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and 'weaponising' them.

To what extent this accelerates the appearance of unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) over the battlefield remains unclear, but the move towards equipping unmanned vehicles with something more aggressive than sensors is already under way.

Despite having a reconnaissance designation, the General Atomics RQ-1A Predator has already been used as a platform for the AGM-114 Hellfire missile - most notably when a CIA-controlled example being 'piloted' from Djibouti was used to assassinate Al Qaeda operatives driving a car through South Yemen.


General Atomics is now hoping to test-arm its MQ-9A Hunter Killer (Predator B) with Raytheon AIM-9M Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles and AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles.

Northrop Grumman, meanwhile, hopes within the next few weeks to start firing tests of 2.75in (68mm) rockets from its RQ-8 Fire Scout. Hellfire was initially considered but its launching 'kick' was thought likely to cause control problems. The 2.75in rockets will initially be fired unguided but are then to be fitted with the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, which uses a laser seeker.

Looking further into the future, Boeing's X-45A UCAV, currently a demonstrator air vehicle, will be capable of carrying precision guided weapons such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and the Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) for suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD) missions.

Some platforms, although currently among the most technically capable in the UAV world, will not, it seems, be armed. At a Northrop Grumman briefing yesterday on its Global Hawk ultra-long range UAV, questions were asked as to whether weapons were likely to be hung from the vehicle's underwing hardpoints (there are two on the RQ-4A and there will be four on the RQ-4B). Ed Walby, the programme's director of business development, said the US saw Global Hawk as an intelligence asset and did not want to muddy the waters by arming it.

Source: Flight Daily News