X-47 Pegasus UCAV-N
Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle - (Naval Version)
It's tailless, shaped like a kite and designed to be stealthy, It's Northrop-Grumman's unmanned X-47 Pegasus UCAV-N.
As of May 2003, DARPA had given Northrop-Grumman the green light to build 2 demonstration versions of the X-47B Pegasus which measure 27.9 feet long and have a nearly equal wingspan of 27.8 feet. The X-47Bs will demonstrate the technical and operational feasibility of using a UCAV to conduct U.S. Navy missions from an aircraft carrier.
Expected capabilities of the Pegasus include a combat radius of 1,300 nautical miles with a payload of 4,500 pounds, and the ability to loiter for two hours over a target up to 1,000 nautical miles away, an operational altitude of greater than 35,000 feet and a high subsonic speed.
The X-47B is planned to be capable for three primary missions; surveillance/reconnaissance, suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) and strike and of course all the missions require stealth and consequent survivability.
Surveillance/reconnaissance: The X-47 will have passive and active sensor suites able to cover a large geographic area and have a long loiter time once over the target area.
Suppression of enemy air defense: The X-47 will be capable of defense stimulation, deception and neutralization as well as being remotely networked with theater and national sensor systems. Expect the plane to carry a complement of advanced SEAD ordinance and accurately target multiple enemies simultaneously.
Strike: The X-47 will be extremely survivable and will carry a complement of existing weapons, as well as a synthetic aperture radar and a state of the art electro-optical / infrared suite all the while being interoperable with current C4I systems.
In August 2004, Northrop was awarded $1.04 Billion over five years for the X-47B program's operational assessment phase. Shortly thereafter, Northrop used a series of low-speed wind tunnel tests to successfully validate the aerodynamic design of the X-47B.
In August 2005 they began ground testing the modified Pratt & Whitney F100-220E engine (also used for the F-15 and F-16) for the X-47B at Pratt & Whitney's test facility in West Palm Beach, Fla. The engine was delivered in June 2005 and has accumulated over 80 ground test hours in three months. "The ground testing program will validate all major elements of the X-47B propulsion system, including inlet compatibility, exhaust system performance and durability, controls, and subsystem integration," said Jim Reed, J-UCAS Program Manager for Pratt & Whitney. "Included in the ground test run series was a simulated carrier approach throttle cycle. The engine performance has been flawless to date."
In October 2005, when a revolutionary Lockheed Martin-build full-scale pole model had completed its first round of radar cross section (RSC) testing, a congressional proposal called for slashing funds for the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) program, of which the X-47 program is part of.
The Air Force, the Navy, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the program's main contractors, the Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp., "are working hard" to persuade the House-Senate conference committee for the fiscal 2006 defense appropriations bill to reject a Senate-passed proposal to slash $200 million from the Bush administration's $350 million request for J-UCAS, said Rick Ludwig, who handles J-UCAS business development for Northrop Grumman.
"I have never seen so many organizations get together to turn that around ... and I feel confident that it will be," Ludwig said at a Precision Strike Association conference.
The J-UCAS program was restructured in November 2005, when the Aeronautical Systems Center opened the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems program office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, taking the reins from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Under the new structure, the Air Force and Navy share management responsibilities but report to ASC Commander Lt. Gen. John Hudson, ASC announced.
An important milestone was reached in December 2005, when Northop released they had successfully completed a simulated exercise that demonstrated the simultaneous control of four X-47B unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) during U.S. Navy aircraft carrier operations.
"This is a major milestone for the Northrop Grumman X-47B team," said Scott Winship, Northrop Grumman's X-47B program director. "We demonstrated the integration of multiple X-47Bs into carrier airspace using existing Navy flight and control procedures, which significantly increases the confidence of successfully introducing UAVs into normal carrier operations."
Using a surrogate aircraft which represented one X-47B, three additional simulated X-47B aircraft were successfully controlled during several flights using advanced mission-management software and air traffic control procedures currently used by Navy aircraft carriers.
J-UCAS Program Cancelled - X-47 Moved to PAX
In early 2006, the J-UCAS program was officially cancelled. The Quadrennial Defense Review called for the Air Force to move up the date to field a new bomber from 2037 to 2018. As part of this efford the J-UCAS program had to be terminated. Boeing's X-45 UCAV program, the Air Force UCAV of the J-UCAS program was cancelled, the Navy's X-47 program was not, and is expected continue test operations.
On March 10th, 2006, due to the cancellation of the J-UCAS program, the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems program office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was closed. The Navy's X-47 program office was moved to the Patuxent Naval Air Station, where the F-35B and F-35C Joint Strike Fighter versions are also currently undergoing flight testing.
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Sources and relevant links
Information and images from DARPA, Northrop Grumman and various press releases.
Special thanks to Intelgurl for co-writing this article