Withdrawal from programme leaves competing Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman teams without a sponsor

Development of the futuristic Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft (UCAR) has been shelved after the US Army pulled its support for the project. Meanwhile,a more practical alternative -the Extended-Range Multi-Purpose (ERMP) unmanned air vehicle - has now progressed into its next phase.

The fate of the UCAR programme, a joint effort by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the army, was left unclear for several months while the latter reviewed its priorities for unmanned air vehicle technology. "The army has recently decided not to provide additional funding for its portion of the UCAR effort," says DARPA.

The UCAR programme's closure strands competing teams led by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman without a sponsor for separate concepts based on a modified Bell 407 and Kaman K-Max, respectively.

DARPA aimed for the UCAR effort to deploy a vehicle that could operate autonomously, while collaborating with manned systems and swarms of other UCARs on strike and reconnaissance missions. Before the army's decision, both teams were waiting for DARPA to select a single contractor to enter a third project phase scheduled to last 30 months.

"So far, the programme had clearly demonstrated that the objective capabilities desired for UCAR are within grasp," says DARPA. "In addition, the programme realised incremental capabilities that go beyond anything currently being pursued within the DoD's [Department of Defense] science and technology community." Instead, the army is moving forward on the ERMP objective to deploy a long-range strike UAV, which will lack the stealthy design and autonomous operation of the UCAR programme.

The army has narrowed the ERMP contest to a Northrop Grumman proposal based on the Hunter II UAV and General Atomics' Warrior UAV, which is a variant of the MQ-1 Predator.

The army's UAV roadmap also now calls for purchasing the Northrop Grumman RQ-8B Firescout as a strike aircraft by 2008. The requirement is included in the Class IV UAV plan for the army's Future Combat System.


Source: Flight International