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Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV)

The objective of the joint DARPA/Air Force Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) program is to demonstrate the technical feasibility for a UCAV system to effectively and affordably prosecute 21st century lethal strike missions within the emerging global command and control architecture. The operational UCAV system is envisioned as a force enabler that will conduct Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) and strike missions in support of post-2010 manned strike packages. This SEAD/Strike mission will be the first instantiation of an UCAV vision that will evolve into a broader range of combat missions as the concept and technologies mature, and the UCAV affordability potential is realized. UCAV could be fielded as soon as 2007 in small numbers, but the technical risk of the program casts doubt on whether such an acceleration could be realized.

The Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle vision is an affordable weapon system that expands tactical mission options for revolutionary new air power as an integrated part of a system of systems solution. The UCAV weapon system will exploit the design and operational freedoms of relocating the pilot outside of the vehicle to enable a new paradigm in aircraft affordability while maintaining the rationale, judgment, and moral qualities of the human operator. This weapon system will require minimal maintenance, can be stored for extended periods of time, and is capable of dynamic mission control while engaging multiple targets in a single mission under minimal human supervision. The UCAV will conduct missions from ordinary airfields as part of an integrated force package complementary to manned tactical and support assets. UCAV controllers will observe rules of engagement and make the critical decisions to use or refrain from using force.

The initial operational role for the UCAV is a "first day of the war" force enabler which complements a strike package by performing the SEAD mission. In this role, UCAVs accomplish preemptive destruction of sophisticated enemy integrated air defenses (IADs) in advance of the strike package, and enable the attacking forces by providing reactive suppression against the remaining IADs. Throughout the remainder of the campaign, UCAVs provide continuous vigilance with an immediate lethal strike capability to prosecute high value and time critical targets. By effectively and affordably performing those missions the UCAV system provides "no win" tactical deterrence against which an enemy's defenses would be ineffective, thereby ensuring air superiority.

Concepts for a directed energy weapon, such as a high-powered microwave [HPM], are under development for a future Block 30 upgrade to the UCAV. The HPM would be used to suppress enemy air defences, and disable command-and-control nodes and other electronic equipment.

As a member of a tightly coupled system of systems, the UCAV will work cooperatively with manned systems and exploit the emerging command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) architecture to enable successful achievement of campaign and mission level objectives. Intelligence preparation of the battlefield will provide an initial mission/threat database for mission controllers. Controllers will exploit real-time data sources from the theater information architecture to plan for, and respond to, the dynamically changing battlefield. The UCAV will penetrate enemy IADs and external systems such as the Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD) will stimulate potential targets. Sensor cueing and off-board targeting can be provided by national systems or airborne assets in real time and/or UCAVs may be part of multi-ship Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA) targeting architectures. The system will create superior situation awareness by leveraging the many sources of information available at both the tactical and theater levels.

Such a UCAV weapon system has the potential to fully exploit the emerging information revolution and provide advanced airpower with increased tactical deterrence at a fraction of the total Life Cycle Costs (LCC) of current manned systems. The government envisions a UCAV Operational System (UOS) air vehicle with unit cost less then one-third of the Joint Strike Fighter, and reduction in total life cycle of 50-80% compared to a current tactical aircraft squadron.

A variety of cost and weight penalties are associated with the presence of a human pilot, including constrained forebodies, large canopies, displays and environmental control systems. The aircraft's maneuver capabilities are limited by the pilots physiological limits such as g tolerance. Removing the pilot from the vehicle eliminates man-rating requirements, pilot systems, and interfaces. The UCAV offers new design freedoms that can be exploited to produce a smaller, simpler aircraft, about half the size of a conventional fighter aircraft. Weighing about one-third to one-fourth of a manned aircraft, at 10,000 pounds they would weigh two to three times more than a Tomahawk missile.

Typically 80 percent of the useful life of today's combat aircraft is devoted to pilot training and proficiency flying, requiring longer design lives than would be needed to meet combat requirements. Without the requirement to fly sorties to retain pilot proficiency, UCAVs will fly infrequently. A reduced maintenance design with condition based maintenance, minimized on-board sensors, reduced fluid systems, maintainable signature, and a modular avionics architecture will reduce touch labor in the fashion of commercial aircraft.

Advances in small smart munitions will allow these smaller vehicles to attack multiple targets during a single mission and reduce the cost per target killed. The Miniaturized Munitions Technology Demonstration (MMTD) goal is to produce a 250-pound class munition effective against a majority of hardened targets previously vulnerable only to 2,000-pound class munitions. A differential GPS/INS system will provide precision guidance, and smart fusing techniques will aid in producing a high probability of target kill.

It is anticipated that the UCAV designs developed under this program will incorporate previously developed advanced technologies that require special security protection. The contractor teams must have the appropriate background, expertise, and facilities necessary to utilize those advanced technologies during all phases of the ATD.


On April 16, 1998 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and U.S. Air Force today selected four contractor teams for the first phase of the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) program. Each team entered into a "Section 845/804 Other Transaction for Prototypes" agreement to receive $4 million for the initial 10-month trade study, analyses, and preliminary design phase. The selected contractor team leads were: Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems, Fort Worth, Texas; Northrop Grumman Corp., Military Aircraft Systems Division, Pico Rivera, Calif.; Raytheon Co., Raytheon Systems Co., Falls Church, Va.; The Boeing Company, Information, Space & Defense Systems, Phantom Works, Seattle, Wash. During the first phase of the program, three industry teams completed exhaustive mission effectiveness and affordability trades to optimize their operational system design, identified critical technologies and issues, and planned their phase II demonstration program.

The Department of Defense provided specific mission objectives and guidance on overall system capability to the contractors, and each team conducted mission effectiveness and affordability trades to optimize an operational system design. They then defined a UCAV demonstrator system to validate the critical technologies associated with their design. At the conclusion of this 10-month preliminary design phase, DoD planned to decide whether to proceed with the 42-month second phase valued at approximately $110 million. The DoD would select a single Phase I team for the second phase effort to complete the development, fabrication and flight testing of two demonstrator air vehicles and a reconfigurable mission control station.

Phase I challenged the industry teams to truly 'think out of the box' and to let the mission requirements drive them to an overall, optimized system solution. All three of the Phase I industry teams put in outstanding efforts and developed innovative designs with compelling operational effectiveness and affordability. Overcoming the technical challenges to conduct these demanding and dangerous missions with an unmanned system will provide the warfighter with a revolutionary capability that saves lives. Working together with the warfighter, the laboratory, and the acquisition community, the industry teams pushed this concept to the limits possible in a paper study.


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and US Air Force on March 24, 1999 selected The Boeing Company, Phantom Works, Seattle, Wash., and St. Louis, Mo., to continue into the second phase of the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) program. Boeing Phantom Works was tasked to design, fabricate and flight test their UCAV demonstrator system in a 42-month, $131 million cost-shared effort. Boeing's Seattle location will be responsible for the mission control system and overall program management, whereas the St. Louis location will have the lead for the air vehicle segment.

The goal of the joint DARPA/Air Force UCAV ATD program is to demonstrate the technical feasibility for a UCAV system to effectively and affordably prosecute 21st century Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) and strike missions. During the first phase of the program, three industry teams completed exhaustive mission effectiveness and affordability trades to optimize their operational system design, identified critical technologies and issues, and planned their phase II demonstration program.

The UCAV ATD is the next step on the path to a revolutionary new weapon system that will augment future manned systems as part of an integrated, post-2010 force structure. The Boeing UCAV concept exploits real-time, on-board and off-board sensors to quickly detect, identify and locate both fixed, relocatable, and mobile targets. Secure communications and advanced cognitive decision aids will provide a human operator with the situational awareness and positive air vehicle control necessary to authorize munitions release. Boeing's tailless, stealthy air vehicle will carry multiple advanced, precision-guided munitions and relay battlefield damage indication information back to the mission control system. Maintained in pristine condition and stored in ready-to-ship containers until called into service, the Boeing UCAV system will be capable of global deployment and operations in concert with manned Air Expeditionary Forces.

The UCAV weapon systems is primarily designed to conduct pre-emptive and reactive suppression of enemy air defense missions effectively and affordably against the anticipated 2010 threats. It will also be highly capable of conducting other strike and peacekeeping missions.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:38:41 ZULU