Alenia Aeronautica's newly unveiled unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) programme is being developed around an indicative Italian air force requirement for a system able to deliver two JDAM-type weapons against ground targets.

Alenia sources say the company received the indicative UCAV requirement from the Italian air force in January this year.

The sources say the air force is continuing to examine operational concepts that may later evolve into a formal UCAV requirement. However, Alenia does not expect any formal requirement emerging in the near future, and is supporting the programme as a means of developing a technological foothold in the sector.

The mock-up unveiled on 30 May (Flight International, 10-16 June) is a half-scale version of a more-capable, low-observable UCAV that would fly around 2008 if the programme received formal funding from either the Italian ministry of defence or any future European development programme.

The demonstrator phase, scheduled to run until the end of 2005, is being wholly funded from within Alenia with a €15 million ($17.5 million) budget allocated.

A UCAV demonstrator now being built by Alenia - referred to within the company as "Sky-X" - has an indicative payload capacity of 300kg (660lb), but this could be increased by 50kg.

Alenia is to progressively evolve the single demonstrator vehicle by using a modular design approach. This could result in different wing configurations being explored. Conceptual images of the final configuration at Le Bourget featured a tail-less arrangement with a wing-form similar to that of the Boeing X-45A. The mock-up rolled out on 30 May carries a butterfly tail.

Source: Flight International