The US Air Force has finally moved to address a nearly decade-old need for a full-scale target to succeed its McDonnell Douglas QF-4s, issuing a notice to contractors to start work on proposals for a new analysis of alternatives.

A new air-superiority target development programme is expected to be launched within three years, ahead of a four-year development and demonstration phase and a production decision during fiscal year 2012, says a newly released acquisition document.

The US military destroys 25 QF-4s each year, but replenishes its inventory at a rate of only 20 a year. If that trend continues, QF-4 stocks will be exhausted by about 2011, says a Defense Science Board (DSB) task force report on aerial targets.

The air force has asked industry to submit bids for a new target fleet that could include using retired or stored military aircraft, unmanned combat air vehicles, foreign aircraft or new designs. New QF variants of the Lockheed Martin F-16 and Boeing F/A-18 are considered leading contenders, with another option being to continue modifying F-4s into targets after acquiring airframes from foreign militaries.

An all-new design could also be selected, such as a concept being proposed by BAE Systems – which prepares QF-4s at a facility in Mojave, California – and Scaled Composites. Their proposed blended wing/body, all-composite airframe is 16.5m (54ft) long, has an 8.2m wing span and would be powered by a Pratt & Whitney F100-200 engine.

The DSB report found that the “F-16 is the most suitable candidate airframe for replacing the F-4”, despite involving upfront development costs.


Source: Flight International