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USN revives partnering talks with USAF on stealthy UCAV

The US Navy and Air Force are in discussions on reviving a partnership on building stealthy, unmanned combat air systems (UCAS) three years after parting ways.

The talks involve embedding USAF staffers inside the programme office for the USN's UCAS-Demonstrator programme, which aims to prove the Northrop Grumman X-47B can land on aircraft carrier decks and be refuelled in mid-air by fiscal year 2013.

The USAF wants to "better understand what we're doing", Capt Martin Deppe, the USN's UCAS-D programme manager, says. "In return, we can understand what the air force is doing. I think that's going to be the beginning of a nice partnering relationship because we both have similar requirements in some regards for systems like these."

The partnership does not include USAF funding at this point, Deppe says, but "it all begins with getting together and starting to talk and find out what the synergies are. Who knows where it goes from there."

The two services originally partnered with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's joint-UCAS programme, which included the Boeing X-45 and the X-47B. That programme was transferred to the USAF in 2005, but cancelled a year later.

Meanwhile, the USN alone launched the UCAS-D programme, and selected the X-47B over the X-45C in 2007. The programme survived a funding crisis in summer 2008, but USN officials agreed to continue supporting the programme over the long term and have so far not reconsidered.

Boeing, for its part, has revived the X-45C airframe as the basis for the Phantom Ray UCAS demonstrator, which is expected to make its first flight in December 2010.

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