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Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft [UCAR]

The Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft [UCAR] will be an all-weather, highly autonomous and survivable unmanned rotorcraft fully integrated into the Army's objective force combat maneuver force structure. The system, which enables ground maneuver force superiority, will be capable of collaborating with multiple UCARs and other manned and unmanned systems. Unlike other unmanned aerial vehicles, however, the UCAR will not have a dedicated ground station. Instead, the system will integrate into existing command and control platforms, such as the Future Combat Systems command and control vehicle and combat aviation. Capable of autonomous mission planning while in flight, the UCAR will request guidance from a human operator only for tasking and final weapons authorization.

The UCAR program will build on work that has been performed under the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle program in order to take a major step forward in system automation. The enabling technologies are survivability, autonomous operations, command and control, and targeting/weapons delivery. A highly survivable UCAR system will prosecute enemy high value targets with relative impunity without placing a pilot in harm's way. In addition, a UCAR capability will provide the Objective Force with the mobility, responsiveness, and lethality required to ensure mission success. Specific objectives of the UCAR program include: development and demonstration of an effective, low total ownership cost design for the system; an air and ground-based command and control architecture for UCAR operations; autonomous multi-ship cooperation and collaboration; autonomous low altitude flight; and system survivability.

The UCAR system will be capable of high levels of autonomy during missions, requiring human intervention only by exception. It will be managed by existing air and ground command and control platforms such as the Airborne Command and Control System, and ground-based command and control vehicles. Harris is already a key avionics systems supplier for the RAH-66 Comanche program, and a leader in communications and situation awareness technologies to the Department of Defense.

In February of 2002 the Army established a new unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft technology development Memorandum of Agreement with DARPA.

In May 2002, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and U.S. Army selected four teams for the initial 12-month concept development and system trades phase of the Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft program.

  • Lockheed Martin Systems Integration, Owego, N.Y./Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., Fort Worth, Texas
  • McDonnell Douglas Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Co., St Louis, Mo.
  • Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., San Diego, Calif.
  • Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., Stratford, Conn./Raytheon Co., El Segundo, Calif.

In October 2002 Boeing announced its strategic partners for Phase I of the Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft program. The team, which will focus on everything from collaborative operations and robotics to en route mission auto routers, has started detailed work on this transformational program. The strategic partners include the following companies and research facilities:

  • ALPHATECH (Burlington, Mass.) - Distributed autonomous cooperative control
  • Axiom (Norfolk, Va.) - Objective Force and joint operations warfighting concepts
  • BAe Systems (San Diego) - Mission planning, automatic re-planner, router
  • Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh) - Collaborative robotics, distributed intelligence, stereo vision technology
  • Harris Corporation (Melbourne, Fla.) - Advanced communication, data links, command and control
  • New Mexico State University (Las Cruces, N.M.) - Artificial Intelligence
  • Rockwell Scientific (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) - Advanced sensors, tactical radar and technology assessment

For the concept development phase, Northrop Grumman's UCAR team includes MD Helicopters, Carter Copters, BAE SYSTEMS, L3 Communications, Sabre Group, Signature Research, Natural Selection and Aero-Science Technology Associates. Northrop Grumman's work on this award will be performed at its Integrated Systems facilities in San Diego and El Segundo, Calif.

Sikorsky Aircraft Co. and Raytheon Company have teamed to develop UCAR. Sikorsky, which led the field of autonomous unmanned rotorcraft development with the CYPHER UAV, will provide low observable combat rotorcraft design and integration experience from COMANCHE. Raytheon will provide advanced sensors, advanced weapon development, unmanned aerial vehicle command and control, and C4ISR integration derived from experience on Global Hawk, Predator and Army Airborne Command and Control System (A2C2S).

The Lockheed Martin team is developing a UCAR that reflects the Army's and DARPA's vision for Unmanned Systems requirements for the future force. This system will be survivable and effective, and autonomous so it can do more, faster, to enhance warfighting effectiveness of the Soldier. The design harnesses current and future technology to create an autonomous maneuver system autonomous so that the workload is out of the cockpit and off the pilot's back for manned unmanned operations,and easily controlled by a Soldier controller in the unit of action. The UCAR will be easily deployed in the war fight as a companion to either the Apache or Comanche, or able to work alone. Speed and maneuverability are compatible with the Comanche and Apache. It isn't about a flying platform, it is about 3-dimensional maneuver. The automatic threat detection and in-stride dynamic replanning capability are combined with 20-40% of Comanche Flyaway Cost ($4-8M) and O&S Costs - 20-50% of Comanche ($1050-2620/flt hr)

During Phase I, contractors will conduct mission effectiveness and affordability trades to develop and optimize an objective system design. After the concept development studies are complete, DARPA will choose two contractors for a nine-month preliminary design phase, followed by a system development phase that will yield two prototype vehicles.

In the final phase, ending in 2009, the Army will take ownership of the winning platform and begin its system design and development, leading to fielding the system sometime around 2012.

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