Business aircraft manufacturer to offer pilotless version of jet to meet US Navy requirement for maritime surveillance

Gulfstream Aerospace plans to compete for the US Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) requirement with an unmanned version of the G550 business jet. The competition is due to start next month with the release of an initial request for proposals with the aim of deploying a system by the end of the decade.

Gulfstream is pitching the RQ-37as a more operationally capable and reliable alternative to traditional unmanned air vehicles. The main drawback is cost, with a green, unequipped G550 selling for around $35 million, compared with Northrop Grumman's claimed $24.3 million price for the RQ-4A Global Hawk and $4 million for an extended-range version of the smaller General Atomics MQ-9A Predator B (Flight International, 22-29 April).

USN officials say they are interested in the Gulfstream concept, given that, like the Global Hawk and Predator, the baseline platform represents an off-the-shelf solution capable of meeting a 2009 in-service date. BAMS is intended to provide the USN with an unmanned adjunct to the follow-on Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft replacement for Lockheed Martin P-3C Orions.

In a letter to the head of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Rear Adm John Chenevey, programme executive officer for strike weapons and unmanned aviation, says: "I strongly support this activity. If demonstrated successfully it would have a direct ability to transition to upcoming unmanned system acquisitions, including BAMS, as well as provide an important technology risk reduction for the BAMS programme."

The trade-off against cost would be reduced platform numbers, providing Gulfstream can show a significant reduction in projected attrition rate over a goal of reaching 20 per 100,000h by 2009. Gulfstream is seeking an attrition rate of 0.3/100,000h for the RQ-37 through automated responses to EICAS messages, and software and hardware upgrades. With flight controls specialist Sierra Nevada, Gulfstream is planning an unmanned demonstration of the aircraft within six months.

Gulfstream says the aircraft will have between three and four times the payload of the Global Hawk, with up to 15.5h endurance and up to 240kVA electrical power to drive sensors. The RQ-37 would leverage off the sensor integration on other special mission aircraft.

The USN has not released its BAMS sensor suite requirements, but Gulfstream is showing the RQ-37 hosting a wide range of possible systems. These include a synthetic aperture radar, electro-optical/infrared, electronic intelligence and ballistic/theatre missile defence sensors.

Source: Flight International