German firm looks at ideas for tactical aircraft to replace anti-radiation UAVs and may seek international partners

Germany's Rheinmetall Defence Electronics is exploring the development of a small tactical unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) as a long-term replacement for anti-radiation unmanned air vehicles such as its own Taifun attack UAV. The company launched conceptual studies of the tactical UCAV concept in late March, and may also open the development programme to international partners to reduce risk and widen potential market opportunities.

Rheinmetall says it is still clarifying its ideas, but envisages that the mini-UCAV would use low observable airframe technologies and carry miniature ordnance for deployment against time-critical and high-value targets in dense battlefield conditions. Similar concepts are currently being explored by France and Singapore as an alternative to the modification of traditional tactical UAV designs for use against targets of opportunity.

The company says that while systems like Taifun will provide a highly capable option for engaging radiating targets once the system enters service with the German army from 2009, the tactical UCAV option would provide more operational flexibility and avoid sacrificing the air vehicle.

Rheinmetall is also exploring the possibility of developing a variant of its KZO artillery observation UAV to support short- to medium-range battlefield rocket forces. This would carry an infrared targeting sensor and a laser designator, in addition to the basic electro-optic payload already carried by KZO. The company says the new payload will be optimised to provide human-in-the-loop control during the engagement of targets.

If pursued, the development would also require the modification of the rocket guidance systems to enable mid-course and terminal engagement updates, plus the introduction of high speed datalinks.



Source: Flight International