Warplanes: May 1, 2000


: The US Navy is beginning a program designed to put Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles on carrier decks about 2015. (Boeing, already building a UCAV for the Air Force, is scrambling to modify it for naval use. Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin are considering various vertical and conventional take-off designs.) The Navy UCAV will be considered for three missions: surveillance, strike, and suppression of enemy air defenses. In the surveillance role, the UCAV could be designed to receive the transmissions of the E-2C Hawkeye radar plane. UCAVs could then operate at the outer edge of the Hawkeye's radar envelope, receiving reflected signals too weak to make it back to the Hawkeye. The surveillance version could also be used to conduct all manner of recon (photo, chemical or biological detection, signal intelligence, etc.). Strike and SEAD versions could attack targets too dangerous for a manned pilot to risk. Since the UCAV would be smaller and more maneuverable than a manned fighter, it could survive in areas where manned aircraft could not. On a strike mission, three or four UCAVs could accompany a single F-18F, controlled by the weapons officer in the back seat. As the UCAVs would carry the bombs, the F-18F could carry more fuel and extend its own range.--Stephen V Cole




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