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X-46

The UCAV-Navy X-46/X-47 is a program for the Navy version of a UCAV that can be carrier-based. Apart from SEAD missions, RECCE and strike will be among the platform's capabilities.

The X-46 designation was assigned to Boeing in 2001 to encompass a "low-cost approach" to the US Navy's planned naval unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV-N) technology demonstration. An F/A-18 was to be used as a "manned surrogate" in this effort, which includes surveillance and operations from aircraft carriers.

Boeing had kept its X-46 UCAV-N activities under wraps, while Northrop Grumman had showcased its work on the X-47 UCAV-N, which the company calls Pegasus. According to one report, the X-46 UCAV-N was to be approximately 34 feet long, with a 44 foot wingspan, and a height of 7 feet. Two large internal bays would allow the stealthy aircraft to carry up to 4000 pounds of munitions up to 650 nautical miles for SEAD or strike missions. Or, equipped with advanced sensors only, the vehicle could perform surveillance missions for up to 12 hours.

As the small UCAV aircraft were being demonstrated for the first time, the tactical environment was changing. In Operation Enduring Freedom, both the Air Force and the Navy experienced very long transit times associated with air combat in a remote region. Crews found themselves flying thousands of miles just to get to the combat zone. In addition, the Defense Department was becoming ever more aware of the hazards of anti-access threats - those enemy capabilities which might prevent the establishment of either land- or sea-based tactical units in a threatened region. One result was evolution of the Air Force UCAV design to provide more range and persistence in the battle space. To answer the Air Force need, the Boeing team created the X-45C, based partly on its X-46 design that had been developed for the UCAV-N.



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