Navy and air force dovetail requirements ahead of creation of joint programme office

The US Navy and US Air Force have agreed that a future unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) needs extended persistence, penetration and a high-fidelity sensor capability. The two services are working to dovetail their respective requirements ahead of the planned establishment of a joint programme office (JPO) later this year.

Both services are working towards having interim capability documents - formerly known as mission needs statements- approved and in place in time for the creation of the JPO.

"We're still working the details on how to stand up the JPO, but some level of jointness offers big savings for the department," says Cdr Ralph Alderson, UCAV-N requirements officer.

The degree of commonality will have a direct bearing on money savings and options are being explored. These range from developing a common vehicle for aircraft carrier and land-based operations, which potentially offers the biggest cost savings, to a UCAV family concept similar to that of the Joint Strike Fighter. Another option is the sharing of major subsystems such as engines or avionics.

There is consensus on the need for a vehicle capable of long range and endurance. The USAF's recent decision to drop the Boeing X-45B demonstrator in favour of the larger X-45C has brought the design more in line with the company's X-46 UCAV-N and the USN's original naval UCAV concept.

With the navy planning to fund two UCAV-N demonstrators, a joint effort reopens the door to Northrop Grumman offering the X-47B to the USAF as an alternative to Boeing's design.

The navy had been considering a vehicle with 12-15hendurance, which requires an 18,200kg  (40,000lb) gross weight-class design. The vehicle, however, cannot become too large, because of deck constraints and the need to balance manned and unmanned aircraft within a carrier air group.

"We're converging towards a tactically sized vehicle. As we work the requirements we will see how it turns out and if it is what the services are interested in," says Alderson.

High-fidelity sensing and multi-mission capability is the other area of broad agreement. The USN's initial focus is on surveillance and reconnaissance, with the capability to later develop into a lethal application. The USAF is looking at electronic attack as an early mission, which is something the USN could be interested in as a supplement to the Boeing E/A-18.

Source: Flight International