US manufacturer says large-wing design and endurance is suited to navy requirements 

Lockheed Martin is investing company funds to evolve its sea-based endurance (SBE) unmanned air vehicle (UAV) concept and aims to bid for the US Navy's planned unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV-N) and Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) requirements.

SBE is a development of Lockheed Martin's USN-funded Multi-Role Endurance study, which the company has continued to fund and promote as an alternative to the Boeing X-46 and Northrop Grumman X-47 UCAV-N demonstrators. The navy intends to re-open the programme to other competitors in 2004 when it hopes to launch pre-development of an operational UCAV-N, which would enter service around 2015.

Lockheed Martin says the SBE's large-wing design is better suited to the navy requirements, which have evolved from a dedicated strike platform to include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles, while extended endurance is also needed. A larger and longer range operational vehicle than either of the two planned demonstrators will be needed, says Capt Dennis Sorensen, USN programme manager, strike weapons and unmanned systems.

SBE is also viewed by Lockheed Martin as the basis for an alternative to Northrop Grumman's land-based RQ-4A Global Hawk for the navy's planned BAMS adjunct to manned maritime patrol platforms. "The navy has made it clear it intends to have a competition for BAMS in late 2004 and we fully intend to participate," says Neil Kacena, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics deputy advanced development programmes.

The USN plans to order two RQ-4As next year for operational evaluation and will equip the UAVs with different sensors, including a 360° radar, electronic support measures for target cueing and a maritime-mode moving target indicator radar. The navy at the same time intends to conduct an analysis of alternatives, considering UAVs such as SBE and General Atomics' Predator B. BAMS service entry is targeted by 2008-09.

General Atomics, encouraged by US Congressional support for Predator, proposes to fly an aircraft carrier-compatible version of the USAF's latest MQ-9A, the Predator B, at the end of the year. Predator would provide an ISR supplement rather than an alternative to larger land-based BAMS, says John Goldtrap, General Atomics manager domestic business development.

Changes to Predator B to make it carrier-compatible include strengthened landing gear, powered spoilers, arrestor hook and stronger structure capable of handling a 4.6m/s (15ft/s) descent rate, as well as provision for a folding wing.

Source: Flight International