DARPA orders naval UCAV

Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Systems sector has been awarded a $160 million contract modification by DARPA to produce and demonstrate two X-47B unmanned combat air vehicles.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has issued Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Systems sector an contract modification worth up to $160 million to produce and demonstrate a minimum of two X-47B unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV).

The X-47Bs will demonstrate the technical and operational feasibility of using a UAV to conduct US Navy missions from an aircraft carrier. Northrop Grumman will also demonstrate how a UCAV can be used to satisfy US Air Force mission requirements.

The award is a modification to the company’s current Phase IIA UCAV agreement and marks the beginning of Phase IIB of the Naval UCAV advanced technology effort. Over the next 90 days, Northrop Grumman will develop a detailed cost and development schedule for the program, which is expected to run through 2006.

‘Lessons learned from our successful X-47A Pegasus, Global Hawk andFire Scout programs give us the experience to deliver and successfully integrate a high reliability UCAV solution for today’s network-centric battlefield,’ said Randy Secor, Northrop Grumman’s UCAV program manager.

Under terms of the agreement, Northrop Grumman will adapt its current X-47B UCAV design to accommodate a consolidated set of Navy and Air Force science and technology objectives. The common objectives include a combat radius of 1,300 nautical miles with a payload of 4,500 pounds, and the ability to loiter for two hours over a target up to 1,000 nautical miles away. In addition to developing the air vehicle and its autonomous control system, the contract also calls for development of a UCAV mission control system.

According to Secor, Northrop Grumman laid the groundwork for a successful UCAV demonstrator program in February with the first fully autonomous flight of the company-funded X-47A Pegasus, a tailess, kite-shaped UAV.

Conducted at Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, California, the flight test demonstrated Pegasus’ ability to approach a ‘carrier deck’ on a flight path consistent with carrier operations and land within a few feet of a pre-designated spot. The company expects to leverage the UAV experience and systems development expertise of its Pegasus flight test team in refining its X-47B development plans, added Secor.