The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) issued a new 25-year “roadmap” for the ongoing development, production and use of unmanned aircraft, ground and maritime systems through 2038. The roadmap forecasts that Pentagon spending on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) will continue growing through 2015; thereafter the rate of spending will decline.
This could be the shape of things to come–moving cargo into remote locations on a large, lighter-than-air (LTA) craft. Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) of the UK is still pushing the LTA concept for a variety of missions, despite the early demise of the U.S. Army’s Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) surveillance program. HAV provided the design and key components to Northrop Grumman for the LEMV, which fell behind schedule and flew only once, in August 2012.
The sunset could be farther off than thought for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the mainstay of the U.S. Navy’s carrier-based fighter fleet. With initial operational capability of the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter that will eventually replace the F/A-18 now planned in early 2019, Boeing and partner Northrop Grumman are proposing an “Advanced Super Hornet” upgrade designed to operate until 2030 and beyond.
Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy conducted the first flight of the MQ-8C Fire Scout on October 31. The unmanned helicopter, which is based on the Bell 407, flew twice that day at the Point Mugu range at Naval Base Ventura County, Calif.
On the first flight in restricted airspace, the MQ-8C flew in a pattern around the airfield for seven minutes to validate autonomous control systems; on the second flight, it reached an altitude of 500 feet while flying in a pattern. The aircraft was operated by a combined Navy/Northrop Grumman flight-test team located at the naval base.
“I started this business to feed my family,” recalled King Aerospace chairman and founder Jerry King. Twenty years later, the company is successfully feeding an extended family of some 200 employees at facilities in Ardmore, Okla., and Addison, Texas, and that family is still growing.
The U.S. Navy’s estimated $7 billion Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) development does not duplicate any existing airborne electronic attack capability. But the potential exists for some “overlap” with electronic attack systems being developed by other U.S. military services, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) advises.
Boeing is flight-testing an F/A-18F Super Hornet with conformal fuel tanks (CFTs), an enclosed weapons pod (EWP) and “signature enhancements” designed to substantially increase the range and reduce the radar signature, compared with the U.S. Navy’s Block II Super Hornet.
General Atomics has demonstrated electronic attack capability on an MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft fitted with a Northrop Grumman jamming pod. A test flight took place during a U.S. Marine Corps weapons and tactics instructor (WTI) course in April, the results of which have only now been made public.
The U.S. Navy says that the unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike system (UClass) could be operational as early as Fiscal Year 2018. On August 14, the Department of Defense announced the award of $15 million contracts to Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman for preliminary design reviews (PDR) of the UClass air vehicle.
The U.S. Navy is rethinking prime contractor Northrop Grumman’s selection of an Exelis-built collision avoidance radar for the unmanned MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance aircraft. The plan was to fit the Global Hawk derivative with the first Department of Defense (DOD) program of record “sense-and-avoid” radar, to comply with international airspace requirements and prevent midair collisions. However, “we’ve made a decision to pause on the development of that capability,” Capt. James Hoke, the Navy’s Triton program manager, said at the Unmanned Systems 2013 conference in Washington, D.C.