US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has confirmed plans to acquire 20 Boeing A160T Hummingbird unmanned helicopters to serve as a strike and surveillance aircraft from Fiscal 2012 to FY2017.

SOCOM plans to submit its acquisition strategy for approval to the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) by end-year, said Maj Scott Beall, the command's A160 programme manager.

The long-endurance A160T, which is re-designated the YMQ-18A for military service, has been in development for a decade under contract with the US Army and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The A160T employs optimum speed rotor technology that varies engine rotations per minute from 100% in vertical mode to 50% in cruise. The helicopter has demonstrated a long endurance flight lasting 18.7hr with a 136kg (300lb) payload, and is perhaps capable of 30hr flight.

That record has made the A160T uniquely qualified for SOCOM's requirement for a long-endurance, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft, Beall said.

Beall added that he also expects the production version of the YMQ-18 to compete against the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout for the army's Class IV unmanned aircraft system (UAS), although the Northrop aircraft has already been selected.

SOCOM also plans to deploy three of the eight prototype A160Ts next year to an undisclosed location, Beall said. The A160Ts will operate DARPA's Forester foliage penetration radar.

The A160T also is likely to deploy in 2010 with the Joint Improvised Electronic Device Detection Agency (JIEDDO), Beall said. Finally, the A160T will be a candidate for a US Marine Corps requirement to deploy an "immediate cargo UAS" to Iraq or Afghanistan by February 2010, he said. The A160T can haul a 1,133kg sling-load at 70kts, Beal added.

Source: Flight International