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As testing progressed with the X-45A, the designers worked on a "B-model," which incorporated lessons learned from testing the initial. As of 2002 it was expected to arrive sometime in 2004. This third phase of the UCAV ATD was forecast to begin in October 2003. That phase focused on risk reduction and operational evaluation to facilitate a low-risk entry into EMD between 2005 and 2007, depending upon funding profiles provided. If the demonstration proves successful, as of 2002 DOD believed that initiation of an EMD effort in 2007 might yield an initial operational capability in fiscal year 2015.

During phase three, program emphasis shifted from validating technical feasibility to exploring operational utility. The key technical challenge in this phase entailed achieving higher levels of onboard vehicle autonomy and cooperative targeting by migrating the intelligent, decision-aiding software developed for the mission-control station onto the air vehicle's mission-management system. From an operational perspective, the greatest challenge was achieving seamless UCAV interoperability with a strike package consisting of manned aircraft.

Part of Phase Three included construction of a third demonstrator system featuring the X-45B air vehicle, which would incorporate all LO design elements envisioned for the UOS to allow for in-flight signature validation and evaluation of LO maintainability. The X-45B was built as close to the operational aircraft as possible. It will be similar to the A-model, but was larger, with a length of 32 feet and a wingspan of 47 feet, compared to the 26-foot-long X-45A. The B-model also carried up to 2,000 pounds of munitions and fly at 40,000 feet. Additional periods of simulation, ground, and flight test were planned, eventually culminating in a full mission demonstration during which several X-45Bs would operate in conjunction with manned aircraft as part of a joint strike force.

One of the key aspects of the program is the air vehicle. From the beginning, it was realized that the X-45A would not be the ultimate end vehicle. They were the initial tools - pure demonstrators - that provide a cost-effective means to complete the first blocks of flight demos. They don't have any residual operational value, nor can they operate from Edwards and validate military utility and operational value.

The X-45B is the vehicle for that. The design and development of the X-45B was the next step in UCAV weapon system evolution, to continue to learn from doing before reaching the crucial acquisition program decision. The X-45A went through the Block 4 early demonstration, but then there was a need a more operational air vehicle - and that's the X-45B. It is primarily the tool to complete the demonstrations and incorporate all lessons learned from flying the A model. By Block 2, UCAV will have proven that the ability to command and control a vehicle in flight, so the challenge will shift to proving that capability with the low observable (LO) apertures and antennas.

The Boeing Company of Seattle was awarded $460,056,330 to fund the Spiral 1 objectives that were being incorporated into the existing Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) Other Transaction Agreement on 06 July 2002. The Spiral 1 effort will lead to the design, development and fabrication of two X-45B air vehicles, two containers and an upgraded mission control station. The effort will also include risk reduction modeling and simulation, ground and flight-testing, and system level demonstration activities necessary to meet the Spiral 1 objectives. This effort also includes an additional block of software development and flight-testing on the X-45As. It will be incrementally funded; the initial funding increment is $1,562,000. Spiral 1 will be performed in St. Louis. (62 percent), Seattle (34 percent), Palmdale, Calif. (three percent), Mesa, Ariz. (one percent), and Southern Calif. (one percent). The effort is to be completed by Dec. 30, 2005. This was a limited competition with one proposal received. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is the contracting activity (MDA972-02-9-0005).

The X-45B is a Low Observable [LO] vehicle designed to demonstrate maintenance of its LO materials. It is critical for O&S concepts to be two generations beyond today, and to demonstrate it. The open architecture will port and it gives a tool to be able to prove all the critical aspects of the CONOPS. Uniquely, as it evolved through time, the X-45B has moved from being just a simple prototype that would feed into a developmental program to a robust baseline for an operational aircraft. The challenge is to make this a prototype that can be fielded and produced in years ahead.

It has a refined airframe in the new UOS shape. It has the GE F404 engine, and it has provisions to take on things that aren't in the main demo program now, such as a SAR, multi-ship ESM, MILSTAR, and air refueling. It led the way for incorporating those benefits in a cost-effective manner in subsequent spirals.

A technology challenge of the program is to realize fully the technical feasibility of the vision for multivehicle flight operations so the vehicle can fly out and hunt for the target on its own; dynamically replan and automatically route around threats; talk to its buddies; and prioritize on who's got range, weapons, and the ability to attack.

Finally, the Air Force will fly one of the B models in a graduation exercise that will be as realistic as can be made. It will engage in a Red Flag exercise, load the vehicle, deploy to an airbase, get them ready to fly, get an order, parse it, fly a mission in cooperation with manned assets, come back, and repeat it again. When that is done, the Air Force will have demonstrated the technical feasibility, military utility, and operational value of this transformational weapons system. It will then be ready for production and operational fielding.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:39:41 ZULU