Boeing unveils UCAV

by Senior Airman Oshawn Jefferson
Air Force Print News

09/28/00 - SAN ANTONIO -- A glimpse of how the Air Force might conduct future combat operations was revealed Sept. 27, when the Boeing Aircraft Company unveiled the first Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle to a crowd of more than 400 spectators at Lambert Field, St. Louis, Mo.

"This new aircraft will take on some of the dangerous and demanding kinds of missions during a combat situation," said Lt. Col. Michael Leahy, UCAV government program manager. "We see in the future that this aircraft will help take care of some of the air to ground threats that we face right now and allow manned assets to do their jobs more efficient and safer."

Only 27 feet long with a 34-foot wingspan, the UCAV is designed to carry a variety of weapons and be stored unassembled in small container for up to 10 years. It can be restored in one hour and up to six UCAVs can fit inside a C-17 Globemaster III.

"These aircraft will allow Air Force leaders to breathe easier when making a combat decision," said Maj. Rob Vanderberry, an Air Combat Command spokesperson. "What UCAV lets us do is attack a target without the concern of loosing a pilot, or having someone become a prisoner of war."

The development of the UCAV could significantly alter the way future wars are fought, because it would limit pilot exposure to war, while improving combat readiness. The UCAV is designed to detect and suppress enemy air defense and strike missions ahead of manned combat strike forces. The plane would be used to augment manned Air Force fighters on high-risk, high-priority missions.

"As the threat changes we think this system will allow us to effectively perform a part of our mission that will help us secure air supremacy," Leahy said. "And from a maintainers point of view, we think this vehicle takes advantage of the next generation of maintainers, because it is all-electric, and it takes all hydraulics out (of the picture) and can it be stored."

The new UCAV will also prove to be cost effective. Each one will cost about $10 million, about one-third of the cost of a next-generation aircraft. Also because there is no need for a pilot, the cost is significantly reduced because there won't be cockpit.

"This aircraft will by no means spell the end for the Air Force's need for pilots," Leahy said. "The role of the pilot will change concerning this aircraft, but I think the person who operates this in the mission control console has to have every bit the knowledge of strategy and tactics in the operational art of war that any pilot has."

Flight-testing the UCAV is slated to begin in the spring of 2001 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Further risk production and operation evaluation efforts also must occur before the Air Force deems the UCAV feasible for mass production.

"Our objective is to have all the testing completed by 2005," Leahy said. "Then we would have the necessary information needed to field these aircraft by 2010 if the Air Force decides to use them."