Douglas Barrie/LONDON

A vertical take-off and landing support unmanned air vehicle (SUAV) is being pushed as an alternative to a crewed design for the US Navy's future carrier-borne utility aircraft.

The USN's Common Support Aircraft (CSA) programme is intended to determine a successor to Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye airborne-early-warning aircraft (AEW), Lockheed S-3B Vikings and ES-3A Shadows and Grumman C-2 Greyhounds. Up to 250 aircraft could be procured.

Speaking at the SMI Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles conference in London at the end of January, Cdr Russ Bartlett, a member of the USN's Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group, said that an SUAV should be included "in the Common Support Aircraft study as an alternative" to a crewed platform.

Bartlett believes that an SUAV would fulfil the majority of the CSA requirements, excluding that of the Greyhound's cargo-on-deck capability. This, he says could be met by an aircraft such as the Bell Boeing V-22 tilt-rotor.

A Lockheed Martin vehicle-design concept for the SUAV shows a delta lifting-body combined with an extended, straight, outer-wing section. Projected performance would offer a maximum of 12h on station at a range of 370km (200nm). The design has leading-edge payload bays, into which modular sensor packages could be fitted for roles such as AEW, reconnaissance and surveillance, says the company.

The advantages of an SUAV in the CSA role, says Bartlett, include the vehicle's greatly reduced deck-footprint in comparison to that of a crewed aircraft, as well as large reductions in life-cycle costs.

The reduced size of the SUAV would provide space for more Boeing F/A-18E/Fs, and Bartlett suggests that annual operations and support costs of an SUAV would be around 15% of those of a conventional aircraft in the same role.

Source: Flight International