Pentagon defines armed, unarmed unmanned aircraft
Even as specifications are being clinched for a faster, higher flying Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) equipped with precision standoff weapons, the U.S. Air Force has drawn a line in the sand about arming other unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, according to Aviation Week and Space Technology.
In particular, the U.S. wants its allies and potential foes alike to know that the Northrop Grumman-built Global Hawk, like the manned Lockheed U-2, will remain unarmed and non-threatening. Instead, the smaller, piston-engined and Hellfire-armed General Atomics Predator A and new turboprop-powered Predator B (carrying yet-to-be-determined weapons) will make up a hunter-killer force.
"We want a shorter [time between finding and attacking a target]; that's why we're weaponizing Predator and Predator B," said Lt. Col. Douglas Boone, deputy chief of the reconnaissance systems division for Air Force acquisition. "We decided that all future Predators would have hard points to carry weapons and a laser designator."
The longer range, longer endurance jet-powered Global Hawk will not carry weapons so it can maintain the same nonthreatening profile as the U-2 and thus have greater access to foreign airspace, Boone said.
"Global Hawk has a different future," he said. "It's not going to be
weaponized. The U-2 and Global Hawk have a lot of access because everyone
knows they're not combat aircraft." Boeing Phantom Works is preparing
to test an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) system and has built two
X-45A flight vehicles. A related version, UCAVN, is being studied for
the U.S. Navy.
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