US Air Force Secrets

By Bill Sweetman
Aviation Week, December 3, 2012

Edited by Andy Ross

An ISR UAV needs stealth and a future LRS-B needs stealth. Recent developments in the black ISR and strike realms:

In 2001-02, LM was awarded a contract for a tactical stealth UAV, the RQ-170 Sentinel. Boeing won a DARPA contract to build X-45A UCAV demonstrators tested in 2002-06. By 2002, the USN was looking at an operational UCAV. By 2003, it had become the J-UCAS and the first wing was expected in USAF service in 2010. The USAF wanted something bigger. NG responded with a bigger X-47C.

In 2003, the USAF defined its J-UCAS as a Global Strike Enabler with an ability to go deep and persist, flying into heavily defended airspace and remaining there long enough for manned strike aircraft to fly in, complete their missions, and leave. This meant 7.2 ks endurance and 1.6 Mm range.

The USAF was interested in AEA and IW systems. The stealthy UCAV would be able to approach closer to an emitter than a manned aircraft and jam it effectively with less power. Weapons would include up to eight SDB.

The AFRL Sensor Craft program started before 2000. Sensor Craft tried to combine efficiency and stealth using natural laminar flow control on swept wings, structurally integrated sensors, and unusual configurations. NG studied stealthy cranked kite configurations offering sailplane efficiency. LM unveiled its Polecat demonstrator in 2006.

Also in 2006, J-UCAS was terminated. The USN continued with its carrier demonstrator X-47B. The RQ-170 was just starting flight tests. USAF J-UCAS money went to a classified program that competed with Space Radar. The USAF concept for an LR ISR/AEA UCAV to suppress, destroy, and degrade defenses became reality.

In 2008, a large NG contract was not for the NGB but for an ISR UCAV resembling the X-47B with radar, electronic surveillance systems, active EW equipment, and maybe a weapon bay for SDB and MALD-J.

The new UAV is a joint development with the CIA, like the RQ-170, and is being managed by the USAF RCO. The USAF/CIA fleet of RQ-170 UAVs remains in high demand for Mideast and Pacific ops. The demise of J-UCAS accelerated the USAF NGB IOC from 2037 to 2018.


AR Love those acronyms!