U.S. Wants to Add Mid-Air Refueling to X-45C UCAS (Updated)
Boeing Co. subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. in St. Louis, MO received a $2.65 million increment of a $175 million modification to a previously awarded other transaction for prototypes agreement to conduct a robust autonomous aerial refueling demonstration with the X-45C robot plane, and extend the current flight test effort by 18 months. In addition, the company will continue previously funded work to design, develop and demonstrate three full-scale, flight-worthy air vehicles and two mission control elements under the X-45C Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (UCAS) program.
Unlike current UAVs, which are mostly used for surveillance and perform unique functions, the UCAS program will develop a robotic aircraft that can perform strike missions at ordnance loadings and ranges that begin to approximate manned fighters.
This $175 million modification is on top of the $767 million Boeing previously received from DARPA in October 2004 to build and flight test three X-45C air vehicles, two mission control elements, and integrate the J-UCAS Common Operating System.
The first X-45C will be completed in 2006, with flight-testing scheduled to begin in 2007. Since Boeing began the J-UCAS Advanced Technology Demonstration Program, two X-45A’s have flown 55 test missions at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, CA.
By successfully accomplishing all required flights and ground demonstrations since that first flight, Boeing has completed the first of five blocks demonstrating increasingly intelligent capabilities. The X-45A UCAV demonstrator hit a ground target with a 250-pound inert near- precision-guided weapon released from its internal weapons bay April 18, 2004. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), Boeing and the Air Force have been conducting the program’s next demonstration block, and a System Requirements Review for the X-45A was completed on May 11, 2005. See “X-45 Transforming the Future of Flight” in Boeing’s All Systems Go magazine for a program timeline to date.
While the X-45A flies numerous test missions, Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems is developing an advanced version, the X-45C, for an early capabilities demonstration. The C configuration will be approximately 39 feet long with a 49-foot wingspan and cruise at 0.85 Mach at up to 40,000 feet, with a mission radius of 1,300 nautical miles. Despite being only a few feet thick, its maximum payload will be 4,500 pounds and it will carry 8 250 lb. Small Diameter Bombs, or GPS-guided JDAMs and other ordnance, using two internal weapons bays.
The program is being planned with a series of overlapping spirals, each incorporating more technology to incrementally increase war fighter capability. The air vehicles will be able to operate independently or be fully integrated with manned aircraft operations, and will incorporate next-generation stealth technologies. Capabilities demonstrations will begin in 2007 to provide several program options for future production and fielding.
The autonomous refueling effort will continue ongoing Air Force Research Laboratory and Boeing development activities and is scheduled to culminate in an in-flight X-45C refueling by a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft in 2010.
Work on the preparations for the extended flight test regimen and air-air refueling demonstration will be performed in St. Louis, MO and will be completed in December 2012. Funds will not expire at the end of this fiscal year. This is a follow-on to a competitive award. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency issued the contract (MDA972-99-9-0003).