The Neuron European multi-national stealthy UCAV (unmanned combat air vehicle) technology demonstrator has recently conducted its 150th flight since it first took to the air on Dec. 1, 2012. The air vehicle is currently conducting its fourth national flight test campaign, which is aimed primarily at assessing the ability of radar and other sensor systems to detect and track this class of aircraft.
The current campaign, which began in November, is being conducted by France’s Direction Générale de l’Armaments (DGA), which acts as the program manager on behalf of the multi-national consortium, with assistance from Dassault, the industrial lead. Other partners comprise Greece (HAI), Italy (Leonardo), Spain (Airbus Defence & Space), Sweden (Saab), and Switzerland (Ruag).
Flight tests are being conducted from the DGA test site at Istres in southern France. In late December the Neuron was flown against two Eurofighter C.16 Typhoon fighters from the Ejército del Aire (EdA, Spanish air force), which deployed to Istres for a series of air-to-air intercept trials, assessing the detectability of the UCAV against the Typhoon’s radar and infrared search and track sensors, as well as the imaging infrared seeker head of the IRIS-T air-to-air missile. The Typhoons from Ala 11 were operated during the trials on behalf of the EdA’s Centro Logístico de Armamento y Experimentación (CLAEX, arms logistics and experimental center). The test campaign is continuing in 2019 and is expected to involve the Neuron flying against the defenses of French naval vessels, including the carrier Charles de Gaulle.
Dassault managed initial test flying of the Neuron, and during this time the UCAV demonstrator flew in a unique formation with a Falcon 7X and a Rafale. The DGA assumed flight test management from Oct. 31, 2014, the agency’s initial campaign ending on Feb. 26, 2015. That date also marked the Neuron's 100th flight. Later that year, the UCAV was flown at Decimomannu in Sardinia for optronic system and Italian government stealth tests, and then at Vidsel in Sweden for further low-observability trials and the first release of a weapon from the internal bay on September 2. By the end of that month, the Neuron had flown 123 times.
A new campaign got underway on May 17, 2016, including studies of a UCAV operating in a maritime environment, working with Charles de Gaulle. In early 2017 the Neuron took part in electromagnetic signature measurement trials at the DGA Maîtrise de l'Information (information management) facility at Bruz, near Rennes.