Northrop Grumman has been hit the hardest by the US military’s decision last year to defer about $1 billion from the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) programme.

Boeing is continuing to build three X-45Cs as planned, but a contract issued on 17 October shows that the order for Northrop’s X-47B has been reduced from three to two.

A $56 million contract was awarded to Northrop to fund the first 11 months of the revisedJ-UCAS programme.

The decision is not dampening Northrop’s spirits, however. To Rick Ludwig, Northrop director for unmanned systems business and strategic development, the cut actually may benefit the X-47 in the long term.

He says the third aircraft is now an option that could be exercised in 2008 – after the US Air Force and Navy have more time to refine aircraft requirements.

The deferral could allow the programme to start building a larger aircraft to meet those emerging requirements, including a long-range strike variant, says Ludwig.

Control of the J-UCAS programme is currently being moved from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to the USAF, with a new office due to be stood up at Wright-Patterson AFB during November.

Boeing’s contract, which was awarded during September, also includes an autonomous aerial refuelling demonstration programme.

Another critical issue facing the J-UCAS programme is a $200 million funding cut in the fiscal 2006 appropriations bill passed last month by the US Senate. The budget loss is not final until passed by a joint conference of the House and the Senate.

“I have never seen so many organisations get together to turn that around,” Ludwig says.


Source: Flight International