THE US DEFENSE Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking service support for its concept of "uninhabited tactical aircraft" (UTAs) - lethal unmanned air-vehicles (UAVs) which could be used on missions considered too risky for manned aircraft.

Col Mike Francis, of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, says that UTA feasibility studies have been under way for about a year and have involved all the major US airframe, engine and avionics manufacturers. "What is missing is a service partnership," he admits.

Francis says that UTA work is focusing initially on "...fundamental control concepts. " Offboard sensors would be used to provide situational awareness to the UTA operator, who could be in the air, on land, or at sea, and who could control one or several aircraft. DARPA says that UTAs promise lower acquisition costs, because they do not have to be man-rated and can be designed for shorter lives.

"The biggest issue is whether they should be expendable or re-useable. We've come up with the concept of 'attritable' - re-useable, but costing so little that, if we lose them, it won't cause heartburn," Francis says.

Source: Flight International