The US Army's on-again/off-again requirement to replace its once-maligned Hunter unmanned air vehicle is back on again. A request for proposals for the extended-range/multipurpose (ER/MP) UAV will be released in the second quarter and the US Army plans to conduct a fly-off between competing commercial off-the-shelf air vehicles in late 2004/early 2005.

Developed by TRW and Israel Aircraft Industries, the RQ-5A Hunter was cancelled in 1996 because of operating shortcomings, but last year the US Army took surviving systems out of storage and deployed them to Iraq for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The army has integrated the Northrop Grumman BAT anti-armour weapon with the Hunter but has yet to deploy it operationally.

Under the ER/MP programme the US Army will acquire only air vehicles, which will operate with the existing ground stations for its AAI Shadow tactical UAV, says Lt Col John Kelleher, office of army acquisition, logistics and technology, speaking at an Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International meeting.

The US Army is looking for a UAV with increased endurance and range, the capability to carry two sensor payloads simultaneously and the ability to carry weapons, says Kelleher.

The ER/MP UAV will fit somewhere between the Hunter at the low end and the US Air Force's General Atomics RQ-1 Predator at the high end, he says.

Source: Flight International