Dassault Aviation has for the first time outlined a three-phase strategy aimed at the development of an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) and a tactical unmanned air vehicle (TUAV).

The French manufacturer is building its strategy on the back of the Petit Duc UCAV that it flew last July. Its plans will include the development of a Rafale UCAV flight leader (UFL), says Dassault scientific strategy director Bruno Stoufflet.

Dassault's "Logiduc plan" will develop UAV and UCAV technology in a phased system, says Stoufflet. Petit Duc is a low-cost technology demonstrator to be followed by the Moyen Duc, a dedicated technology demonstrator aimed at France's TUAV requirement and the Grand Duc UCAV mission capable demonstrator.

Speaking at Flight International's recent UAV Australia conference, Stoufflet said company funding is committed to Petit Duc and Moyen Duc, while it hopes to use the European Technology Acquisition Plan - a joint French, German, Italian, Swedish and UK initiative to acquire next generation strike platform technology - and French defence ministry money earmarked for UCAV studies to develop Grand Duc.

Moyen Duc is due to fly in late 2003, he says. It will benefit from co-operative composite flight management studies being conducted by Dassault and Boeing to develop means of integrating UAVs with other aircraft.

As a TUAV, the system is expected to be catapult launched and recovered by parafoil - a system, chosen, says Stoufflet, because it provides an element of control not available if a parachute is used.

The Grand Duc concept of operations would pair the UCAV with a Rafale UFL that would provide control and command for the unmanned platform. Later developments, however, give the UCAV greater autonomy and additional roles including, in around 2015-2020, close air support to ground forces through an army/UCAV interface.

UCAV lessons derived from the Grand Duc pre-design phase stress a need for low observability but not high agility, at least initially, and a range linked to the unrefuelled range of the co-operative manned platform.

Another thread to Dassault's unmanned vehicle studies is an anti-tactical ballistic missile version based on the company's high altitude long endurance platform proposals. Powered by two Honeywell TFE731-20 engines it would carry a 1,000kg (2,200 lb) payload at an altitude up to 60,000ft (18,300m).

Source: Flight International