Lockheed Martin hopes to demonstrate the mini-missile on a turboprop-powered UAV in 2003/4

The US Air Force is seeking money to demonstrate deployment of the Lockheed Martin Low Cost Autonomous Attack System (LOCAAS) on the General Atomics Predator B, as part of efforts to expand the use of armed unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) following recent successes in the Afghanistan conflict.

Lockheed Martin has proposed integrating LOCAAS with the turboprop-powered Predator B and conducting a demonstration in 2003/4. The aim is to provide a greater stand-off capability than is afforded to the RQ-1A Predator, armed with the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire.

The demonstration would entail Predator B acquiring a target and downloading the location to LOCAAS before launching the winged munition. The GPS satellite-guided LOCAAS would descend to 750ft (230m) altitude and, through onboard three-dimensional laser detection and ranging (LADAR) seeker and automatic target recognition, would detect, track and destroy a target.

LOCAAS could be launched from 30,000ft and higher, above the ground fire which claimed many RQ-1As over Afghanistan and during the 1999 Kosovo conflict.

Powered by a small 30lb-thrust (0.1kN) turbojet, LOCAAS has a 30min endurance and a 185km (100nm)range. The weapon weighs 40kg (85lb) and is 0.79m (31in) long, enabling Predator B to carry 10 LOCAAS compared with the RQ-1A's two Hellfires.

The USAF is looking for additional funds to integrate LOCAAS with the new small munition ejector rack on the Lockheed Martin F-16 and is considering integrating the weapon with the larger Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV. "We've done some work with Global Hawk and looked at its payload capability - we're talking about 900kg, so we're not weight limited," says a Lockheed Martin programme official.

A LOCAAS air vehicle completed a navigation and flying qualities test on 4 February at Eglin AFB, Florida, concluding an initial $33 million advanced technology demonstration phase. A follow-on $16 million effort calls for the first LADAR-guided flight by June, an armed test in October and powered flight with wings extended in March 2003.

The USAF is requesting $11 million more in fiscal year 2003 for the Predator B demonstration and the acquisition of 11 LOCAAS units. "This will take us right through 2003 and 2004 to the doorstep of system development and demonstration," says Lockheed Martin. The USAF is looking to start full- scale development in 2005, which could lead to delivery of an operational system by 2007.

Source: Flight International