August 20, 2004
Contract to build unmanned fighter awarded to Northrop Grumman
SAN DIEGO — The Pentagon has awarded Northrop Grumman $1 billion to develop a new unmanned combat plane capable of taking off and landing on aircraft carriers. The Century City, Calif.-based company received a $30 million installment for the five-year X-47B program Wednesday during a ceremony aboard the Midway, a decommissioned carrier now used as a museum.
Northrop Grumman will build three X-47B prototypes, with early state development work to be done in San Diego. Two models will be made for the Navy, and one for the Air Force.
Defense analysts say the Pentagon is expected to make a comparable investment in the X-45, a rival combat aircraft that Boeing has been developing for the Air Force. The Pentagon would like both aircraft to operate for any military service as a Joint Unmanned Combat Air System.
Such robotic jets would be used for ground attack missions during the early stages of a war.
Challenges of the project include designing aircraft strong enough to withstand the stresses of carrier takeoffs and landings. Remote control communications also would need to operate around the variety of radio and radar signals generated by carriers.
Since the Air Force and Navy use different systems for aerial refueling, the plane would need to be able to use either one.
Northrop Grumman plans to make the kite-shaped X-47B prototypes at its plant in Palmdale. Related development work will take place in Costa Mesa, Torrance and Irvine; St. Louis; East Hartford, Conn.; Clearwater, Fla.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Rockford, Ill.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Burnsville, Minn.
S.D. contractor likely to hire 120 engineers, staff
By Bruce V. Bigelow
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
August 19, 2004
The Pentagon gave clearance for takeoff yesterday to a multibillion-dollar program to develop a new generation of unmanned combat aircraft capable of Navy carrier operations.
Under a $30 million installment awarded yesterday, Northrop Grumman will build three prototypes of its X-47B, a robotic stealth warplane about the size of the Navy's F/A-18 Super Hornet jet fighter.
The funding was part of a five-year, $1.04 billion program awarded to the company by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon's chief funding arm for high-technology research. At least 70 percent of the early stage development and assessment work on the X-47B will be done in San Diego, at Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems unit.
Defense analysts say the Pentagon is expected to make a comparable investment in the X-45, a rival combat aircraft being developed by Boeing.
Both designs represent a new generation of unmanned aircraft, which began in the 1990s with robotic spy planes like the propeller-driven Predator made by San Diego's General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.
As conceived, such robotic jets would be used chiefly for ground attack missions, rather than air-to-air combat with hostile aircraft.
Northrop Grumman executives discussed the new program yesterday evening, near a mock-up of the futuristic X-47B aboard the USS Midway aircraft carrier museum moored near the downtown Embarcadero.
"This $30 million is the first increment in a billion-dollar program," said Robert A.K. Mitchell, who oversees advanced systems development at Northrop Grumman's business in Rancho Bernardo. He said the defense contractor will likely hire 120 engineers and others to help develop the complex software, electronics, and communications equipment needed to fly the unmanned jet.
"These aren't low-tech jobs," Mitchell said. "I think it's a great thing for San Diego."
Northrop Grumman conceived of the X-47 years ago as a Navy aircraft, and Boeing began developing the X-45 for the Air Force. But the Pentagon now wants both aircraft to operate for any military service as a Joint Unmanned Combat Air System, or J-UCAS.
That means common operating systems must be developed and the robotic warplanes must be able to fly a variety of combat missions.
For example, both the X-45 and X-47B were envisioned as ground attack fighters capable of performing "first day of a war" missions that require flying into high-risk areas. In addition to providing aerial surveillance, the robotic aircraft will have to be able to identify and destroy enemy air defenses, using precision-targeted bombs and missiles.
Northrop Grumman said in June that it demonstrated a shipboard mission-control system that would allows unmanned combat aircraft to operate aboard conventional aircraft carriers.
But the companies developing the systems still face substantial challenges, Mitchell said.
For example, flying take-offs and landings aboard aircraft carriers means the planes must be able to withstand high structural loads. Carriers also generate a variety of radio and radar signals that pose a challenge for roboticaircraft operated by remote control.
The Air Force and Navy also employ different methods for aerial refueling, Mitchell said, and the robotic aircraft must be able to use either one.
Mitchell also led development of the Global Hawk, a high-altitude robotic spy plane, at Northrop Grumman and previously at Ryan Aeronautical. He was president of Ryan for 11 years, and moved to Northrop Grumman with its 1999 acquisition of Ryan.
Northrop Grumman plans to make the X-47B prototypes at its plant in Palmdale. Related development work will take place in Costa Mesa, Torrance and Irvine; St. Louis; East Hartford, Conn.; Clearwater, Fla.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Rockford, Ill.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Burnsville, Minn.
Work on this phase of the program is scheduled for completion in September 2009.
Cool! I'm all about new technology, although I hope we never completely replace the piloted aircraft. Limited use such as this would be a great asset when you needed to hit a target that's really heavily defended.
You don't have any artist conceptions of what this bird might look like do you?
a new way to kill the islamascum
Errrr.....look at the photo in the original post.....
Thanks anyway, but all I'm seeing is that damn dreaded red X that's so common around here. LOL. It's ok, I'll just do a search with that model name. I'm sure some pics will turn up. Thanks for the heads up.
It's a DARPA web site.
The problem must be on your end as it's working fine for me.
Direct link to image
URL for DARPA X-47B