A new fleet of unmanned, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft that could be acquired in two years and fielded by 2025 by the US Marine Corps will be tasked and equipped for a wide range of combat, surveillance and support missions.
The US Marine Corps released a vision for the proposed MUX fleet in planning documents posted on an acquisition web site on 4 June.
The documents reveal a plan to test the abilities of industry competitors, which include the Bell V-247 Vigilant tiltrotor and Northrop Grumman Tern tailsitter, to deliver a new fleet of large and versatile aircraft on an aggressive schedule.
The USMC plans to make an acquisition decision by 2020, according to the documents. The first aircraft should be ready to deploy from a land base with an “early operational capability” by 2025. More capabilities for the land-based fleet should be rolled out in two years. The first ship-based deployment should come in 2029, the USMC acquisition planning documents show.
The aircraft must be capable of reaching a higher speed (300kt) and altitude (25,000ft) than the USMC’s manned MV-22B Osprey tiltrotors, plus land vertically and operate from ships. The aircraft must be able to carry up to 1,360kg (3,000lb) of payload internally as a threshold requirement, and loiter on station up to 350nm from the base for eight to 12h. It also must be able to hover out of ground effect at 6,000ft on a 35℃ (95°F) day.
The USMC wants the MUX to perform a broad set of missions, according to the new acquisition documents. It would finally provide a high-speed armed escort aircraft for the MV-22B, carrying a load of eight Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. It could also carry other weapons for different missions, including an anti-radiation missile for an electronic warfare mission and air-to-air missiles for an airborne early warning mission.
The USMC also wants the MUX to provide a variety of surveillance and communications services for Marines on the ground and for the amphibious ready group afloat. The aircraft would have to carry an electro-optical/infrared sensor during any mission, but the USMC also desires a sophisticated radar and potentially advanced sensors, including hyperspectral.
In still other missions, the USMC envisions the MUX operating as a cargo aircraft, ferrying supplies to force reconnaissance units on the ground.
Bell has proposed configurations of the V-247 weighing more than 13,600kg, but the USMC wants the MUX to occupy no more space on a carrier deck than a Bell UH-1Y Venom with its helicopter blades folded, the documents show.