LOCKHEED MARTIN IS proposing a demonstration of automatic in-flight refuelling as the first step towards developing an unmanned tactical aircraft based on the F-16.

Modified F-16s are being studied to meet emerging US requirements for a new class of aircraft called uninhabited combat air-vehicles (UCAVs)

One concept under study is a long-endurance defender based on an F-16 with a large wing and conformal fuel-tanks, and hypersonic missiles for tactical-missile defence, or the Hughes AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles for cruise-missile defence.

As a first step, Lockheed Martin is proposing modifying F-16s now in storage to provide a demonstration and early operational-capability. The long-endurance defender represents an interim step before development of an all-new UCAV.

The company is also studying a smaller, unmanned, derivative of a stealthy, agile, tailless-fighter design as a potential all-new UCAV.

Lockheed Martin says that the strongest interest is in using UCAVs for suppression of enemy air-defences (SEAD), and the company is conducting simulations of missions involving unmanned F-16s armed with Texas Instruments AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missiles. The UCAV F-16s are used to knock out air defences ahead of manned F-16s. UCAV control is from the ground, but could be from an aircraft.

In the long-endurance-defender concept, the modified F-16 could remain on station for 9h before being aerial-refuelled. The company is also studying concepts for in-flight re-arming. The automatic-refuelling demonstration for which funding is being sought would involve a manned F-16 equipped to rendezvous automatically with the tanker.


Source: Flight International