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[infowar.de] Combat UAVs und der Joint Strike Fighter
Boeing hat zwar (trotz erheblicher Lobbyarbeit in letzter Minute) den
Auftrag für den Joint Strike Fighter, das neue US-Kampfflugzeug, an
Lockheed Martin verloren, aber dafür scheint der Krieg in Afghanistan
eine erstklassige Gelegenheit zu sein, eine andere Alternative aus
diesem Hause zu testen und zu vermarkten: Unbemannte Kampfdrohnen.
The Seattle Times October 26, 2001
Boeing's pilotless fighter could make JSF obsolete
By David Bowermaster
When the Pentagon awards the $200 billion Joint Strike Fighter contract
this afternoon, Boeing or Lockheed Martin will be hired to produce the
world's most technologically advanced jet at cut-rate prices.
But a small team of Boeing's brightest engineers is already hard at work
on a far more sophisticated combat aircraft that could cost two-thirds
less and eventually render JSF and the pilots who fly them obsolete.
Indeed, the quickly advancing capabilities of unmanned combat aerial
vehicles, or UCAVs, has led many defense experts to predict JSF could be
the last manned fighter ever built.
"One could very easily imagine the JSF program getting substantially
truncated because UCAVs turn out to be able to do everything JSF can,"
said John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, a nonpartisan think tank
in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. military has been using unsophisticated "drones" on
reconnaissance missions since at least the Vietnam War.
But dramatic technological advances in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly
in the complex software that provides the brains of today's UCAVs, have
greatly enhanced their versatility, range and functionality.
In March, the Northrop Grumman-built Global Hawk reached a maximum
altitude of more than 65,000 feet during a historic 30-hour flight from
California to South America and back.
An even more impressive achievement was recorded this month in
Afghanistan. According to several published reports, the U.S. Air Force
equipped an RQ-1 Predator spy plane with Hellfire missiles and conducted
the first remote-controlled bombing raids in history. The missions were
directed by military operators thousands of miles away in the U.S.
Built by General Atomics of San Diego, the Predator has been in service
since the mid-1990s and has been used for intelligence-gathering in
Kosovo and in no-fly-zones in Iraq. A Predator with a Hellfire missile
first successfully blew up a tank in February in tests at Nellis Air
Force Base in Nevada.
The Pentagon has not confirmed the Predator's Afghanistan missions. But
George Muellner, who directs Boeing's UCAV work as president of the
company's Phantom Works unit, is encouraged by what he's heard. "We see
that as a real precedent to bring on board things like (Boeing's) UCAV,"
The Pentagon selected Boeing over Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman
in 1999 to lead development of the UCAV Advanced Technology
Demonstration program. The $131 million project, which includes $21
million from Boeing, is directed by the Defense Advanced Projects
Research Agency and Air Force.
Muellner said Boeing's X-45 UCAV is specifically designed for combat.
Unlike the Predator, which is slow and easily shot down, the X-45 will
be stealthy and able to carry more than 3,000 pounds of munitions.
The X-45 will also be capable of identifying, tracking and hitting
targets on its own. Human controllers will only be necessary to confirm
and authorize targets, to avoid hitting "friendly" forces on the ground
or civilian structures.
The Predator, by contrast, relies on a remote operator to monitor data
picked up by the plane and then instruct it to bomb a target.
Boeing predicts the X-45 will cost up to 75 percent less to maintain
than current aircraft. One big reason: As much as 80 percent of the
flying done by existing fighters is to train pilots.
The X-45 is also compact and highly portable. It is 27 feet long with a
34-foot wingspan. The planes are designed to be disassembled and stored
for up to 10 years, and can be reassembled in less than an hour. Six of
them will fit in a single C-17 freighter for quick transportation to
military hot spots around the globe.
These potent capabilities prompted Merrill Lynch aerospace analyst Byron
Callan to predict JSF orders could be less than one-half of the 6,000
"UCAVs are potentially the most potent long-term competition for the
Joint Strike Fighter," Callan wrote in a recent report.
Muellner spent 31 years in the Air Force and oversaw the predecessor
program to the JSF from 1993 to 1995. He, too, believes UCAVs will
likely mitigate at least some of the demand for JSF.
"From the beginning the assumption has been that UCAVs will replace JSF
in some roles," Muellner said.
Foremost among those roles is "suppression of enemy air defenses," the
highly dangerous mission of taking out anti-aircraft weapons in the
first days of a war such as the one in Afghanistan.
Since Sept. 11, Muellner said, the Pentagon has asked Boeing to
accelerate the deployment schedule for the UCAV program. Originally
scheduled for service by 2005 or 2006, Muellner said UCAVs could be
pressed into use against enemy air defenses as early as 2003 or 2004.
It is too early to gauge how much business UCAVs will represent for
Boeing, Muellner said, because the Air Force hasn't determined how many
it will buy. But he noted that Boeing is also competing with Northrop
Grumman on a UCAV version for the Navy that could be deployed on
aircraft carriers, and it's working on an unmanned rotor-wing aircraft
that will take off and land vertically. Muellner estimates Boeing
already has 500 to 1,000 employees working on various unmannedvehicle
"We see this as a major business opportunity," Muellner said.
Win or lose on JSF, that means Boeing is likely to be developing
cutting-edge combat aircraft for many years to come.
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