Northrop Grumman has won the U.S. Navy's Unmanned Combat Air Systems Technology Demonstrator (UCAS-D) contract, worth $635 million over the next six years. The company's proposal for an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) capable of operating from aircraft carriers, designated the X-47B, beat the X-45N submission from Boeing. The decision is ostensibly a big blow for Boeing, which pioneered the development of UCAVs in the U.S.
Northrop Grumman X-47
Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS): As well as its “black world” programs such as the Lockheed Martin “son of DarkStar” that was reportedly used in the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance role over Iraq, the U.S. is developing a UCAV in a publicly visible program to satisfy the needs of the U.S. Air Force and Navy.
Having led the way with unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) concept demonstrations, the U.S. Air Force seems to be having second thoughts. Meanwhile, Europe is playing catch-up, but with three entirely separate UCAV demonstrators: the pan-European Neuron, the BAE Raven and the EADS Barracuda. Good technical progress is apparent, but debates about requirements, operational utility and cost are ongoing.
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