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EXCLUSIVE: Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) An ATS Analysis & Discussion

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posted on Mar, 29 2004 @ 08:53 PM
Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), sometimes referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles are remotely piloted or self-piloted aircraft that can serve in a variety of roles such as target drones, upper atmosphere experiments, reconnaissance & air "occupation" (Uninhabited Reconnaissance Aerial Vehicle or URAV), and even combat/attack (Uninhabited Combat Aerial Vehicle or UCAV).

(Special thanks to Intelgurl for turning me on to ATS, for her encouragement that I do this, as well as her assistance in formating, terminologies, fact gathering and basic expertise and knowledge in the field.)

There are over 60 various UAV systems presently deployed or under full-scale development across the globe.
This ATS report will focus on US operational UCAV's, their history, their present state of technology and what the future may hold.

Historical UCAVs: Systems & Technology
Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles have been used in a reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering role since the 1950s and UAV's acting as target drones have been around for longer than that.

It was therefore inevitiable that UAVs, which were first primarily used for reconnaissance, would also migrate towards active combat missions when the technology allowed.

The issues that kept UCAV's from being fielded were due to the simple fact that it was much easier to fly over an "area of interest" and take pictures than to shoot at or otherwise place ordinance on specific targets.

Historically, the UCAV concept has suffered from "command and control" issues which in turn affect policy issues; the most glaring technical issue was the vulnerability of the communication link to jamming and even hijacking by means of spoofing, and the USAF's need to hit specific targets and not get caught up in the diplomatic quagmire of collateral damage (accidental killing of civilians) or friendly fire incidents, (the killing of friendly troops).

The first such known attempt by the US to field a UCAV was the HAVE LEMON project which began in 1971.
Based on the Ryan Firebee which was originally used as a target drone.
HAVE LEMON was initially successful using a variety of strike weapons including Maverick TV guided missiles, but due to DoD concerns over the vulnerability of the control signal being hijacked or jammed the HAVE LEMON project was scrapped in 1979 with approximately 60 HAVE LEMON Firebees being retired or put into storage.

Post HAVE LEMON Projects: 1979-2001
Over the next two decades, as more reliable communications links were developed, automated systems came into much wider use, and the military as well as policy makers became much more comfortable with such new technologies.

These advances in new technology have allowed UCAV missions to be conducted by an operator in a supervisory role in a ground vehicle, Naval ship or other aircraft, but the UCAV would be able to continue it's mission autonomously if communications were cut.

According to DoD strategy, the goal for UCAV's was for them to carry out the role of "air occupation", which is described in DoD documents as using an unpiloted aircraft to fly continuous patrols over hostile territory, identifying enemy activities and targeting them in the URAV role and then following up with attacks in the UCAV role.

Lockheed-Martin's Intermediate UCAV Solutions:

One of Lockheed Martin's UCAV solutions involved using F-16's by refitting them with larger wings which would provide for additional fuel giving an 8 hour loiter time over the area of interest, as well as allow for 6 or more air-to-surface weapons on the wing rails.

Another Lockheed UCAV concept was a stealthy diamond shaped, tailess, flying wing with it's 2 weapons bays on either side of the centerline located turbofan. This concept had 3 variants: one with an afterburning engine for maximum performance; one with a non-afterburning thrust-vectoring engine for better maneuverability; and one with a conventional non-afterburning engine for low cost and longer loiter time.
None of these concepts were known to be chosen by the DoD.

Current UCAVs: In Production & Development

General Atomics RQ-1A Predator
The Predator drone was initially designed to gather intelligence on enemy forces without putting U.S. pilots at risk, but now it has found a role as an offensive weapon.

Predators have been used for reconnaissance (URAV) since 1995 with a range of about 460 miles and a loiter time of up to 24 hours over an area of interest, all the while broadcasting via secure link real-time video to controllers on the ground.

In February 2001, just months before the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, Predators were first equipped with Hellfire anti-tank missiles. Since that time the drones have been used against al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Afghanistan, including a February 4 2002 strike that was believed to have killed a number of senior al Qaeda leaders in Zawar Kili.

In October 2001, before U.S. troops entered Afghanistan, a Predator was used to try to protect Afghan opposition leader Abdul Haq before he was captured by the Taliban. The drone fired several missiles at Taliban forces but was unable to drive them off.

The Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, has said the Predator is most valued because "it's persistent" and can stay "over the target area for long periods of time and it can move between targets" without being detected.

Current technology onboard the Predator enables it to strike moving targets with it's Hellfire missiles, and even sniff out air defense radar, target and apply it's ordinance.

Boeing X-45:
Born from lessons learned in the development of Boeing's "Bird of Prey" tailess technology demonstrator, the X-45 UCAV is a stealthy, formidable unmanned attack platform.

In April 1999, DARPA and the USAF placed a contract with Boeing which called for the design, manufacture and flight testing of two demonstrator UCAV's. The X-45 UCAV is a development of the Boeing Phantom Works of Seattle, Washington. The first X-45A demonstrator took to flight in May 2002 and the second X-45 in November 2002.

The X-45A UCAV is just a demonstrator and does not have the full compliment of attack system avionics. The design includes the incorporation of stealth technology, two fully functional weapon bays, provision for the full sensor suite and aerial refuelling capability. In April 2003, DARPA requested that Boeing modify the X-45B design to give it longer range, greater payload capacity and an extended loiter time over the area of interest.

The X-45's system operation is configured to always incorporate human assets in the decision making process, in both the planning and in the execution of missions, target detection/identification, real time targeting, weapon selection and authorization, weapons delivery and post-attack damage assessment. The high level of automation allows one operator in the mission control station to control up to four air vehicles.

The X-45 UCAV is intended to have experimental capability by 2008 and enter service after 2010.

Boeing X-46 UCAV-N:
Currently in competition with the Northrop Grumman X-47 Pegasus, the Boeing X-46 UCAV-N is the maritime version of the X-45, which is designed for Naval operations, specifically operations in the demanding aircraft-carrier environment.
This naval UCAV system requires 50 percent less space than manned aircraft and the ability to operate with minimal Command & Control from a ship-based "remote pilot".

Current schematics for the Boeing X-46 UCAV-N show an aircraft approximately 34 feet long, with a 44 foot wingspan, and a height of 7 feet.

Two large internal bays would allow the stealthy aircraft to carry up to 4000 pounds of munitions up to 650 nautical miles for SEAD or strike missions. Or, equipped with advanced sensors only, the vehicle could perform surveillance missions for up to 12 hours.

With the successful completion of the demonstrator system phase of the program, the DoD could begin engineering and manufacturing development of the UCAV-N in the FY 2007 time frame.

Northrop Grumman X-47 UCAV-N
Industry insiders say that the X-47 Pegasus is in the forefront of the competition for the DoD's UCAV-N. Northrop Grumman was awarded a UCAV-N risk-reduction contract in May, as was Boeing, and is awaiting release of a request for proposals to build the full-scale demonstrator. This has been delayed while DARPA and the US Navy debate whether to award one contract or two, to maintain competition for the UCAV-N development program scheduled to begin in 2007.

X-47 Media:
A Northrop promotional video for the Pegasus can be viewed on this LINK, and the X-47's first flight video can be found HERE.

The Future belongs to UCAV's:

DARPA's Vision for the Future:
DARPA's concept of future air attack envisions a mix of manned and unmanned attack aircraft on the same mission and interacting within the same operational airspace - both preprogrammed artificial intelligence and remote command and control come into play with this concept. The remote command and control will have the ability to be switched from a ground-based C&C unit issuing instructions to the UCAV, to the pilot(s) in the manned aircraft issuing commands.

These UCAV concepts will involve air-to-ground as well as air-to-air capabilities. The manned aircraft will be far more survivable since their primary function would be to stand off and supervise a "swarmed" attack by the UCAVs and in the case of an air-to-air battles the UCAVs could also offer interference as well as engage the enemy aircraft outright.

The Future of UCAV's: Lockheed Future Strike Concept

Although Lockheed does not have any "known" UCAV concepts being considered in current competitions they do have an eye for the future; Lockheed currently has ongoing UCAV R&D under the project names "Sabre Warrior" and "Sure Strike". Very little information is available to the general public on these programs, but here is a link to 2 Lockheed promotional videos on the "Sabre Warrior" and "Sure Strike".

The Future of UCAV's: Following the Money Trail

So you're probably reading all of this and thinking to yourself, "This is cool and all but so many programs are cancelled, is this UCAV thing really going to happen?"

If you follow the money that's being invested by the DoD then you will know the answer to that question is a resounding "Yes!".

The UCAV programs fall under an Air Force and DARPA funded program called "System Development and Demonstration (SDD) 0604731F UCAV, Project # 58".

This program contains the R&D and deployment of 14 various UCAV systems, the Boeing X-45 and Northrop-Grumman X-47 being only 2 of these 14. It is quite apparent that there are a number of secret UCAV projects under this development program.

Information is obviously limited and vague, however the program is currently at a "Spiral 2" development stage which is the final stage before deployment.

Here are some numbers on the program just to demonstrate the magnitude with which the DoD is developing and deploying.

Last year (2003) DARPA & the USAF spent $39,127,000 on this program;

This year, (2004) DoD will spend $175,944,000.

In FY 2005 $423,447,000 has been allocated for UCAV projects...

and in FY 2006 $468,356,000 has been allocated.

These exponentially increasing funds are indicative that the USAF is very dedicated to the increasing use of UCAV's in wartime situations.

UCAV's: Final Thoughts
In the near future there will still be a place for manned aerial fighter/attack craft, however the need for having as many manned aircraft may dwindle as guidance, command/control and artificial intelligence sciences are further developed for both ground attack and air to air engagements.

This is by no means a comprehensive work as there are future concepts and more obscure programs that were not examined here. However, there is hopefully adequate information here to start off a good discussion.

(Again, many thanks to Natalie, aka Intelgurl for her help on this project.)


"UCAV Origins",, In the Public Domain

"UAV's: Background and Issues for Congress", Congressional Research Service, 2003

"Naval Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV-N)", UCAV-N Transitioned to J-UCAS Program (October 2003), DARPA

"The Boeing X-46", Invisible Defenders.Org


"(SDD) 0604731F Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) Project #5058", DoD Budget Activity Sheet - System Development and Demonstration

"X-45 UCAV unmanned combat aircraft", Above Top Secret; Quoted post by Intelgurl

"UCAV THE NEXT GENERATION AIR-SUPERIORITY FIGHTER?", Major William K. Lewis, Air University, Maxwell Aif Force Base, Montgomey, Alabama

[Edited on 29-3-2004 by SkepticOverlord]

posted on Mar, 29 2004 @ 09:10 PM
Damn nice thread!!!
I still remember Intelgirl's thread on Lasers, that truly rocked!
I'm sure I'll have questions and comments after I read this.
BTW, you got my '10' vote.


If the plural of goose is geese, why isn't the plural of moose, meese?

posted on Mar, 29 2004 @ 09:16 PM
i'm not even into planes and weapons and such but i found your thread to be very fascinating. btw those uav scare me.

posted on Mar, 29 2004 @ 09:27 PM
Nice work Bios, you don't need to give me credit for the little bit I did. You took it and ran with it...

I would be interested to see others do some digging and post information or pictures of some of the more "obscure" systems you spoke of, also it would be interesting to see any UCAV's other countries are working on.
For instance, I know that Dassault has a very cool looking stealth UCAV in the works.


posted on Mar, 29 2004 @ 09:44 PM
Thanks for the link, bios. I gotta go to work right now but I'm going to check this out in the morning.


posted on Mar, 29 2004 @ 09:56 PM
Bios & Intelgurl,

As you requested Natalie:

Dassault, (a French aerospace company) is now developing concepts for unmanned combat aircraft. (Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine).

The company is working on at least two unmanned concepts for the military: a stealth UCAV based on its Gran Duc design, (see below image) and a reconnaissance unmanned air vehicle from its Moyen Duc project.

The UCAV is a manta-ray-like black diamond aircraft, with twin tails and an engine intake on the back of the aircraft. Dassault expects the UCAV prototype to fly within the decade.

By the way - great post!!!


If the plural of goose is geese, why isn't the plural of moose, meese?

[Edited on 29-3-2004 by Mo0se]

posted on Mar, 29 2004 @ 10:53 PM
very awesome thread... and just like the directed energy weapons thread, i have no possible questions. great job!

posted on Mar, 30 2004 @ 04:32 AM
It is about time you both got back. Four day's off is enough.
Start pumping out the info


posted on Mar, 30 2004 @ 06:39 AM

Originally posted by intelgurl
I would be interested to see others do some digging and post information or pictures of some of the more "obscure" systems you spoke of, also it would be interesting to see any UCAV's other countries are working on.
For instance, I know that Dassault has a very cool looking stealth UCAV in the works.


That would be the Grand Duc II, I think. Very cool system, they envisage four or five of these being controlled/co-ordinated by a Rafale or other fighter close to the action. Will post a bit more on it when I have the time. Very cool stuff, intergurl & bios!

posted on Mar, 30 2004 @ 07:17 AM
the bbc reported on this a few days back so i posted this in the » Aircraft Projects » Israel unveils tiny drone planes


posted on Mar, 30 2004 @ 07:18 AM
I not sure to what extent, but I believe that UCAV's may become a critical part of the tactical strike and close air support warfare environment. The main reason that I beleieve this may be the case, is because of what is called loiteral strike warfare in which strike aircraft are sent on long (4-6 hours) patrol flights in a given area so they are immediatly avalible if air support is needed by ground units. In the first Gulf War, many pilots became so board and frusterated with these missions, that they would go find their own targets of oppertnity without waiting for an assignment. These loiteral stike missions are a critical part of battlefield air warfare and close air support. I think this would be the Ideal mission for a UCAV.

ATS Director of Counter-Ignorance

posted on Mar, 30 2004 @ 11:08 AM
Excellent post Bios! This is the definitive ATS UCAV report. Carrying on in the spirit of the Intelgurl legacy. Yeah, Natalie - you know how we like it!!!

Sweet, dude

posted on Mar, 30 2004 @ 03:28 PM
ucav - x-45 -

crw canard rotor/wing

Naval Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV-N)

hunter uav

firescout (pic)

airforce factsheet on global hawk

airforce factsheet on predator

X-47A Pegasus

x39 - fate

Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems

FCS OAV: Organic Air Vehicles

Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft (UCAR)


for news on UAV look on

[Edited on 31-3-2004 by MarkLuitzen]

[Edited on 31-3-2004 by MarkLuitzen]

[Edited on 31-3-2004 by MarkLuitzen]

posted on Mar, 30 2004 @ 03:42 PM
Very good work folks!!!

Ok, i'm just gonna dive right in here and go into the issues i'm thinking about, the systems that most intrigued me on these designs were the actual control systems and not the fighters per se, its a very old concept we have here but it has many operational flaws, you could effectively disables all these babies.

The Tactical Control System or TCS is the complete packaged software, software-related hardware and extra ground support hardware necessary for the control of the Outrider Tactical UAV , the RQ-1A Predator UAV and possible future tactical UAVs. A planned Engineering Change Proposal (ECP) will provide TCS interoperability with the RQ-2A Pioneer tactical UAV. TCS will have the objective capability of receiving Global Hawk and Dark Star High Altitude Endurance (HAE) UAV payload information. In addition, TCS incorporates the technical interfaces necessary for the dissemination of UAV imagery and data to 24 selected joint and Service C4I systems. TCS is an acquisition category II (ACAT II) program under the aegis of the Joint Project Office for UAVs (JPO-UAV).

This merging of technology is fast becoming the blueprint for the base control system, a fully functional set of software and hardware that effectively functions like the LINK system used by NATO countries, it offers interoperability and merging of control under on command, possibly in the future we will see a command whose solely defined task will be to acquire, maintain and fly UAV's. This is a concept that is already being tossed around Washington D.C. and is very popular with senior pentagon officials, with the development of TCS you could effectively fly a fleet of UAV's using nothing more than a computer and a few large video screens on the floor of the Oval office. This sheer simplicity of use could be the key to the manpower problems faced by todays armed forces, without pilots you need to train people to fly and fight like a computer game, this brings along rapid psychological effects not only for the pilots but those controlling them, war becomes impersonal and a battle of machines, like in some future sci-fi novel.

TCS is the one to watch, once its fully operational and developed to a UAV-LINK1 phase we will see a full scale roll out of UAV's.

Personally i dont think the UAV's will completely replace manned fighters, i believe they will become one layer of the triad concentrated in the air, they will merely supplement existing pilots or will be added when numbers are lacking, i doubt the Pentagon would be happy enough to turn over such strike control to people who will never see their target or witness the feelings of flying deep over enemy territory.

Interestingly enough it seems that TSC is being developed so that it can perform strike functions for the ordinary trooper, eliminating the risks involved in sending in apache's or blackhawks to clear the way. An initial goal of the TCS is to integrate it into a two HMMWV unit (thats a humvee folks) allowing it to become the commanders personal shotgun.

Future theories:
The development of the UAV and stealth capability for it heralds a new era of warfare, where troops themselves can call in awesome firepower to supplement their advance, imagine fields of these UAV's just waiting outside the combat zone ready to roll the second the order comes out from one of those humvee's, swarms of UAV's could be raining down on enemy troops within minutes with complete impunity.

If theres nobody actually pulling the trigger...are we still at war?

posted on Mar, 30 2004 @ 05:01 PM
Its interesting they are going full speed to push these things out. Now in the event of odd vehicles,lights dancing around being spotted they can say, oh, that musta been a test of the X47 or the X43a or the x45.

Its fun to tell my story to people of the triangular craft I saw hanging in the air between Angel Fire NM and Taos. It made no sound and gave off a weird hum you could feel at your core. Everyone I have ever told its always the same response. "Must have been one of those Stealth Fighters or Bombers

posted on Mar, 30 2004 @ 05:48 PM

Originally posted by Nerdling
Very good work folks!!!

... its a very old concept we have here but it has many operational flaws, you could effectively disables all these babies.
The Tactical Control System or TCS ...

the material you are getting your facts from is apparently a 1996-97 era technology review. However, this is a very rapidly moving initiative by the DoD with major funding behind it as seen in the original post.

Below you will see a project management chart that is unclassified. It shows that in 1999 the TCS project was in "Block 0" stage of development...
This is now 2004 and the TCS project is in "Block 3" stage of development and is declared sustainable.

The hardened sat links to these UCAVs are very secure and even if the link is jammed the vehicles have built in autonomy and can carryout a mission and return home without outside input.

It also bears mentioning that there are probably safeguards in place that if a UCAV loses connection with it's roost then it has the built-in "if/then" programming (A.I. common sense) to exit the jammed area and regain the sat link, it could even be reprogrammed to go into "hunt mode" after the jamming station in question.

As for your comments on the future I tend to agree with you~


[Edited on 30-3-2004 by intelgurl]

posted on Mar, 30 2004 @ 07:39 PM
For info about international UAVs, UCAVs and URAVs, including Cold War Soviet ones:

posted on Mar, 30 2004 @ 10:31 PM
Those look kick ass!

Good article. It's this kind of stuff that makes me keep coming back here.

posted on Mar, 30 2004 @ 11:04 PM
Here is more 'limited' information dealing with the "Spiral' Phases:
Small UAV's

The company will use most of the funds, about $400 million, to initiate 'Spiral 1' work - development of the larger, stealthier and more advanced X-45B air vehicle, which will serve as the precursor to the first operational UCAVs (JDW 6 March). The first X-45B is due for completion in 2004 and will begin flight-testing that year. The second unit will be delivered in 2005. 'Spiral 2' UCAVs will be the first production models and optimised for pre-emptive SEAD. 'Spiral 3' vehicles will perform reactive SEAD. 'Spiral 4' aircraft will incorporate a directed-energy laser or high-powered microwave payload.

"We view the X-45B as the basic 'truck'," Col Leahy said. "It is being developed to host a variety of different payloads. 'Spiral 2' is about trying to figure out what is the best first set of missions for that truck."

GlobalHawk, article in Dec. 2002. I'm sure that the GlobalHawk is past 'Spiral 2':
Global Hawk UAV supports OEF recon

The current Global Hawk acquisition strategy calls for six development spirals and 10 production lots, the colonel indicated.

“We’re now in Spiral 2, which will improve the air vehicle’s structural and power systems in preparation for greater sensor capabilities delivered in future spirals,” Coale said. “This includes an improved wing design and fuselage modifications to increase mission payload capacity to 3,000 pounds. Such changes will allow Global Hawk to meet future systems performance requirements for altitude, range and endurance.”

“Spirals three and four will integrate additional capabilities such the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program and signals intelligence sensors, as well as provide improved communications functionality,” Coale added. “Spirals five and six will incorporate more performance and reliability improvements, and allow for future technology insertion opportunities.”

Armed and Dangerous

By then, Boeing hopes tobe well into development work on its Spiral 1programme, the X-45B, which is 40% largerthan the Amodel and will feature the low observ-ability characteristics and avionic systems of theoperational model. Although the X-45B could be fielded opera-tionally if circumstances warrant it, the intentionis to procure Spiral 2 air vehicles; the Block 10A-45. Spiral 3 and subsequent spirals representfuture blocks. “We envisage spirals coming outevery two to three years,” according to CaptStolz. While the present intention is for Block 10to address the electronic attack and strike roles,there is the potential for it to carry out pre-planned – ‘pre-emptive’ SEAD – missions andtactical reconnaissance as well.

Finding current and 'up-to-date' online information on the varied 'Spiral' programs are 'scant' to very minimal. Not good.

I would like to take a moment and congratulate bios for a very indepth and informative documentation/article (Intelgurl, also). Phenomenal job!


[Edited on 30-3-2004 by Seekerof]

posted on Mar, 31 2004 @ 05:40 AM
link video
the x-45 recently had a weapons drop test from its its weaponbay. can be found by clicking the urls above

[Edited on 31-3-2004 by MarkLuitzen]

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