The X-45C unmanned combat air vehicle, a concept aircraft based on the current X-45A, is designed to meet both the Air Force's evolving need for greater range and loiter capability and the Navy's requirements for potential carrier suitability and other Navy-unique needs. The X-45C will also have a larger payload capability, including the ability to carry two 2,000-pound joint direct attack munitions. Operational missions for the X-45C may include suppression of enemy air defenses; strike; electronic attack; and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
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. The X-45C is designed to take affordable stealth to the next level and to provide the most persistent, longest range tactical sized aircraft in the modern Air Force inventory. The aircraft weighs in at approximately 36,000 pounds, with a wingspan of nearly 50 ft, and can carry up to 4,500 pounds of ordnance. Boeing proposed a modified version of the X-45C for Navy use.
In a late 2003 site survey at Edwards, members from the Air Combat Command, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Boeing began the preliminary process of selecting a base for an operational assessment of the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle, the X-45C. ACC was in the process of objectively evaluating potential bases for the operational assessment of more than ten UCAVs. In the Air Staff's concepts of operations, or CONOPS, uninhabited aerial vehicles will play a key role in how the Air Force fights future wars. Conducting the operational assessment of UCAVs at Edwards will help keep at the forefront of this transformational technology. Edwards is among the candidates due to its ability to cost-effectively integrate test and evaluation mission with a strong understanding of warfighter requirements using state-of-the-art facilities and a high degree of intellectual capital on uninhabited aerial vehicle operations. Edwards has vast experience already with UAVs, along with the flexibility and diversity to support UCAV operations. Having the UCAV at Edwards would increase that expertise.
An operational assessment is designed to evaluate the UCAV's ability to meet requirements set by ACC for warfighting capabilities. As of late 2003 the assessment was scheduled to run from 2007 through 2010.
The X-45C design passed muster at its Mid-Term Design Review in 2004, at which time it was planned to see first flight in 2006.
On 12 October 2004 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded the Boeing Company, McDonnell Douglas Corp., St. Louis, Mo., $766,696,178 in funding to continue the X-45C portion of the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) demonstration program over the next five years, in addition to the $291 million currently under contract for the Boeing J-UCAS effort. Under the newly awarded funding, Boeing will continue their effort to design, develop and demonstrate three full-scale, flight-worthy air vehicles and two mission control elements. The system will combine advanced air vehicle hardware, including integrated sensors, communication, navigation equipment and low-observability features, with the J-UCAS Common Operating System to meet mission capability demonstration objectives established by the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy.
A full scale Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems X-45C was on display at the 2005 Naval Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Air Demo held at the Webster Field Annex of Naval Air Station Patuxent River in St. Inigoes, Md., June 27, 2005. The daylong event highlights unmanned technology and capabilities from the military and industry and offers a unique opportunity to display and demonstrate full-scale systems and hardware. This year's theme was, "Focusing Unmanned Technology on the Global War on Terror." At that time the first flight of the X-45C air vehicle was scheduled for early 2006.
As of late 2005 it was planned that the X-45C's first flight would occur in Spring 2007. The J-UCAS capabilities demonstration program will culminate in an operational assessment to demonstrate the capabilities of the J-UCAS system in realistic mission scenarios.
Boeing's X-45C platform will be designed to survive in a high-threat environment and feature beyond line-of-sight network connectivity for global operations. The platform will also have the ability to conduct land-based suppression of enemy air defenses; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions; and other missions, while demonstrating advanced target detection, interoperability, and advanced command and control techniques. Additionally, the effort will include initial investigation of simulated aircraft carrier operations using the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System.
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