THE TRW/ISRAEL Aircraft Industries (IAI) Hunter joint tactical unmanned air vehicle (JT-UAV) is coming under fire from US Navy opponents who favour deployment of the General Atomics Predator UAV on USN warships.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has tentatively scheduled October for a fly-off between the two UAVs, in which the Hunter "...will be given a chance to dig itself out of a hole", say informed sources.

The Pentagon is acquiring the short-range UAV for the US Army, the USN and the US Marines Corps. The plan calls for the purchase of 50 systems, worth $4 billion, including 18 for the USN.

As flight-testing continues, in Arizona, USN officials say, that they are examining various options to fill naval tactical UAV requirements.

Before a Congressional panel, Nora Slatkin, the USN's acquisition chief, said that the Hunter "...can be fixed, but the cost is too high. She added that, "we don't believe we can afford this cost."

The planned fly-off will demonstrate the Tier II Predator in a tactical role. Hunter project officials have been given until October to solve problems, which have dogged the UAV programme. "The Pentagon is giving the Hunter project one more chance to see whether it can fly," the sources add.

A critical US General Accounting Office report says that full-rate production can only begin before the Hunter is proved to meet USN requirements. It says that a shipboard demonstration conducted in 1994 did not reflect operational conditions.

TRW's Robert Kohler says: "This programme has not been without challenges for TRW and IAI - challenges that have been worth meeting to provide our armed forces with a mature, full-capability, system rugged enough for the most demanding scenarios."

Source: Flight International