Boeing and Northrop Grumman briefed on requirements for modified X-45C and X-47B

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has finally taken the first step towards development of a joint unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV). It has asked Boeing and Northrop Grumman to produce modified X-45C and X-47B demonstrators, respectively, to meet potential needs of the US Air Force and US Navy.

The joint UCAV demonstration is potentially worth $140 million to Boeing and calls for a minimum of three X-45Cs. Northrop Grumman is scheduled to receive up to $160 million for two X-47Bs.

The joint UCAV demonstration enlarges on Boeing's work for the USAF, building and flying two smaller X-45As, and X-45B design work now cascading into the X-45C. "The navy is getting a huge benefit from all the work...leveraging off the nearly $700 million spent on the two programmes," says Darryl Davis, Boeing Phantom Works UCAV programme manager.

Boeing and Northrop Grumman have for the first time been given a common set of USAF and USN design objectives. These include a 2,400km (1,300nm) combat radius - more than three times that of the X-45B - an internal weapons payload of 2,050kg (4,500lb) and a 2h loiter over a target 1,850km away.

Boeing's batwing X-45C combines elements of the X-45B with the company's X-46 naval UCAV proposal. It will have a 16,570kg gross weight and a 14.95m wing span, compared with the 10,000kg and 9.15m of the unbuilt X-45B.

Externally theX-47B will resemble the size and shape of Northrop Grumman's UCAV operational system (UOS) conceptual design revealed last month (Flight International, 15-21 April). The demonstration, due to end in late 2006, will determine whether the two services will develop a common UOS ordifferent airframes with a shared systems architecture.

Modifying the X-45C for the USN's planned UCAV-N Phase IIB flight demonstration will entail structural and avionics changes to show it can make precision approaches for carrier landings. Northrop Grumman will have to adapt the X-47B design to meet the USAF's strike and electronic attack requirement.

Source: Flight International