Having flown for the first time on May 29, Alenia Aeronautica’s Sky-X unmanned technology demonstrator is making its debut at the Dubai show, appearing in the static display. The Italian group is also hoping to attract regional orders for its C-27J transport, and ATR 42MP and ATR 72ASW maritime patrol platforms, models of which are on display at its stand (C301).
The Sky-X is intended to demonstrate and trial technologies aimed at a wide range of unmanned applications, including both civil and military observation and reconnaissance missions. It is also acting as a technology demonstrator for unmanned combat air vehicles, one of several such programs being conducted in Europe by the likes of Dassault, EADS and Saab, and which are intended to feed data into the French-led, multinational Neuron UCAV design.
Among the concepts to be explored by Sky-X is the increased use of artificial intelligence (AI), in which an increasing number of decisions are delegated to the UAV’s computers. This minimizes emissions when operating in hostile airspace, complementing the low radar signature of the Sky-X. AI also assists in making UAVs fit the “netcentric warfare” model better, as it allows decisions to be made without them having to go too far up the chain of command.
Originally scheduled to have flown in June 2004, the first flight of Sky-X was delayed by a redesign that incorporated enhanced stealth features and a longer fuselage for greater payload carriage. The vehicle is intended solely for trials from a test site, and is approximately half the size of a notional UCAV based on the configuration. It has a maximum takeoff weight of 2,200 pounds, of which around 880 pounds can be fuel and payload. The fuel/payload trade-off favors the latter, and the Sky-X is restricted to flights of around one hour endurance. Much of the fuselage is a payload bay. Although the aircraft does not have a weapons bay as such, the payload bay can be configured with a plug-in pylon for weapons trials.
Middle East Export Prospects
Sky-X is one part of Alenia’s presence at Dubai, which is focusing on sales campaigns in four regional nations. Here in the United Arab Emirates the navy has a requirement for a medium-range, low-cost maritime patrol aircraft that is capable of performing the anti-submarine mission. Alenia is proposing the ATR 72ASW for this mission, having recently sold 10 of this version to Turkey to fulfil a similar requirement. Deliveries under the $219 million contract are due to start in 2010.
Meanwhile, the UAE Air Force has shown interest in the C-27J, a radically updated version of the Aeritalia G222 that employs many systems (including color screen cockpit and Rolls-Royce AE2100 engines) from the Lockheed C-130J new-generation Hercules. The C-27J is a possible solution to replace portions of the air force’s current transport fleet, in line with new tasks that accompany the recent military collaboration agreement within the Gulf Cooperation Council.
GCC operations are also at the heart of a requirement for medium transport capability for the Qatari Emiri Air Force. Alenia has demonstrated the C-27J to both Qatar and Oman, which also has high interest in the type. Oman also has an outstanding need for new maritime patrol aircraft, for which it currently operates a few locally modified but aged Shorts Skyvans.
Finally, the Royal Saudi Air Force is assessing whether to renew its transport fleet with the acquisition of 15 aircraft between 2006 and 2010. In 2002 the C-27J was demonstrated during a tour of the region, and proved to be highly effective in the hot and harsh desert environment.