Neuron Program Completes Stealth Test Flights

 - August 26, 2015, 10:07 AM
This overhead view of the Neuron demonstrator at Decimomannu airbase shows additional stealth treatments applied to antenna and access bay doors for this phase of flight testing. (photo: Alenia Aermacchi)

Alenia Aermacchi reported the successful completion of the flight-test phase in Italy of the pan-European Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) demonstrator. The company said that “12 highly sensitive sorties to verify the radar cross section (RCS) and infrared signature” had taken place from Decimomannu airbase in Sardinia. The single Neuron air vehicle is now undertaking further RCS flight tests in Sweden, plus the dropping of GPS-guided bombs on the Vidsel range.

The Italian sorties were flown at different altitudes and flight profiles against both ground and airborne radars, the latter being the Captor mechanically scanned unit carried by the Eurofighter Typhoon. Alenia Aermacchi noted that its contribution to the Neuron program includes the electrical generation and distribution system; the air data system with its innovative stealth characteristics; low-observability components; and the smart integrated weapons bay (SWIB). The Italian company noted that the SWIB system “allows for the automatic detection and recognition of the target in stealth mode and enables the sending of an attack approval request to the ground station commander before the launching of weapons.”

The Neuron previously completed 100 test flights from Istres airbase in France. About 20 sorties are planned in Sweden, and these will conclude the flight-test campaign. However, Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation, the Neuron industrial lead company, told journalists last June that he was talking to the French government about more funding to extend the program. 

Alenia Aermacchi said the Neuron program is “mitigating the level of risk of future UAS investments in Europe and moving toward systems’ development for operation uses.” However, of the six European airframers participating in the Neuron program, only Dassault is involved in a follow-on UCAV effort. This is the Anglo-French Future Combat Air Systems (FCAS) program, in which BAE Systems and Dassault are studying the feasibility, characteristics and cost of an operational UCAV. The contract was signed last October and runs for two years. In June, Trappier said that “the natural next step is with the British” but also expressed concerns to AIN about future British commitment beyond the FCAS study phase.    

Meanwhile, the UK government remains tight-lipped about progress with the current all-British Taranis UCAV demonstration program. The last media briefing was 13 months ago, at the Farnborough International air show in July 2014. A BAE spokesperson told AIN, “We are continuing to gather data and complete additional test points. Successful completion of this program proves the UK’s industrial capability to design and develop an unmanned, stealthy combat aircraft. This puts the UK in a strong position should we wish to enter into an international collaboration, by demonstrating a genuine UCAS design, development and manufacturing capability. We are in discussion with the MoD about the next stage of testing for the aircraft, including any further flight trials.”