Uncertainty surrounds Pentagon’s UCAV plans
Some industry representatives are greeting interest among senior U.S. Air Force officials in fielding an unmanned bomber as a welcome new aircraft development opportunity, Aviation Week & Space Technology said, but other industry advocates of the X-45 unmanned combat aerial vehicle and the FB-22, a bomber version of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F/A-22 fighter jet, view the activity as a threat.
Consideration of a bomber effort is only one of several thrusts taking place at the Pentagon that could shake up existing unmanned aircraft plans. Another notion that could alter the current landscape is a proposal to combine Air Force and Navy UCAV efforts. Both suggestions haven’t progressed far, but could gather steam quickly in the coming months as the Pentagon finalizes its fiscal 2004 budget plans.
Air Force Secretary James G. Roche has been a central voice leading industry to believe an unmanned bomber project may be in the offing. Roche has expressed skepticism about using the UCAV to suppress enemy air defenses; he wants planners to assess whether removing the pilot from such a high-workload mission makes sense.
The comments appear to have resonated particularly strongly at Northrop Grumman, which for some time has been trying to interest the Air Force in a new bomber project.
Boeing and Lockheed Martin have not made a strong case for the unmanned bomber. Boeing is focused on promoting its X-45, while Lockheed still argues the Air Force should consider a strike version of the F/A-22, the FB-22, for long-range attack missions.
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