Raytheon Missile Systems has emerged as a potential player in the medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned air vehicle sector, announcing plans for an expendable system to provide "more affordable persistence" than designs such as General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems' Predator, says Don Newman, the company's director unmanned systems advanced programmes. The design would have a 6m (19.6ft)wingspan, be able to operate for 24h or longer and could carry a warhead, he says.

The MALE system is part of a Raytheon strategy to establish its own product line in the UAV sector after an extended period as a sensor and ground-control system supplier. The company's UAVs will form part of a networked architecture comprising both sensor platforms and weapons, further blurring the divide between unmanned systems and air-launched weapons.

Raytheon says future operations could involve some ground-attack missiles operating as ad-hoc "pathfinders" for swarms of common intelligent missiles. The pathfinder round would perform surveillance, reconnaissance, target identification and designation functions for other missiles within a self-forming battlefield network, and would also conduct post-strike analysis and order follow-on strikes if required. Depending on the outcome, the pathfinder would then move the swarm on to locate and engage other targets.

Raytheon has also hinted at the existence of a tactical UAV programme designated Bald Eagle, briefly described in a brochure released at last month's Farnborough air show. This details the system as having a 2.1m wingspan and a length of 0.9m. Raytheon officials were unable to explain the Bald Eagle reference, with one suggesting the document referred to the Boeing/Insitu Scan Eagle, but this has a 3m wingspan.


Source: Flight International