Raytheon is exploring weaponised versions of its SilentEyes expendable unmanned air vehicle (UAV) and has a US Army special forces contract to develop swarming micro air vehicles for use in urban operations.

Raytheon unveiled a pre-production version of its SilentEyes glider UAV at Farnborough International, one week after the company offered the system to the US Air Force for use with its planned MQ-9 Predator B.

SilentEyes is a folding mini-UAV and would be carried on the MQ-9 as an expendable vehicle launched from the UAV's ALE-50 towed decoy magazine.

Earlier versions of the mini-UAV have been carried and launched from MQ-1 Predator wing pylons in at least three trial programmes since 1999. Those air vehicles had a cylindrical fuselage and conventional airframe configuration.

The latest configuration resembles a flying shoebox with pop-out wing and tail surfaces and would be used as a leave-behind or close-in surveillance sensor launched from the MALE UAV. The Silent Eyes mini-UAV can be controlled from either a standalone ground station or direct from the existing Predator ground control station.

Don Newman, director unmanned systems advanced programmes at Raytheon Missile Systems, says the most recent demonstrations of co-ordinated SilentEyes/MQ-9 operations were carried out at Edwards AFB, California in June. The USAF awarded Raytheon $3.5 million for the demonstration in late 2003.

Newman says Raytheon in June put a proposal to the USAF in the hope of securing funding for initial production in the near future.

An armed version of SilentEyes is under study he says, as part of broader Raytheon planning to develop a family of networked weapons and UAV systems.

Source: Flight International