Saab has started flight tests of a subscale unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) concept. The model, based on the Swedish company's Sharc proposal, is part of its plans to develop unmanned vehicles that can operate autonomously anywhere and Sweden's network-centric defence plans.

Initial flight tests are believed to have taken place in the USA. The company has built four air vehicles, with each subsequent version featuring improved avionics and systems, says the company.

The air vehicles are powered by a 45lb-thrust (0.2kN) AMT Olympus turbofan, have a 2m (6.6ft) span, are 2.5m long and weigh 50kg (110lb). During the flight trials the Sharc typically flew at 160kt (300km/h).

The first test campaign included eight flights to test air vehicle performance, with the Sharc remotely controlled rather than flying autonomously. Later trials, which are expected this year at the Vidsel range in Sweden, will test autonomous flight, while later the company will test capabilities such as autonomous take-off and landing.

Saab has built the air vehicle to Swedish military certification standards and aims to develop UAVs and UCAVs able to operate autonomously in civil airspace, says Lennart Sindahl, Saab Aerospace vice-president and general manager future projects.

The company says the scale of the flying concept to an operational UCAV, which is likely to be in the 5,000kg-class, is unclear as it will depend on customers' needs and the outcome of the test programme.

Ake Svensson, Saab Aerospace general manager, says the technology could be used in unmanned systems of "different sizes and shapes", including high-altitude long-endurance surveillance UAVs.

Source: Flight International