Army and DARPA select teams for unmanned helicopter development

Leaders of the U.S. Army and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are choosing four contractor teams for Phase 1 of the Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft program.

Aug 1st, 2002

by J.R. Wilson

WASHINGTON — Leaders of the U.S. Army and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are choosing four contractor teams for Phase 1 of the Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft (UCAR) program.

Military planners envision UCARS to work with other reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft, such as the Army's RAH-66 Comanche scout-attack helicopter and Global Hawk high altitude unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

UCARS would operate as an element of the Army's Objective Force not only to extend the reach of manned aircraft, but also occasionally to substitute for manned aircraft in risky operations. Pilots of combat helicopters could control the UCARs without the need for a UCAR ground station. The UCARs could perform armed reconnaissance and attack missions alone or as elements of a manned-unmanned team.

The Phase I teams are:

  1. Boeing Military Aircraft and Missile Systems in St. Louis;
  2. Lockheed Martin Systems Integration in Owego, N.Y., and Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas;
  3. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in San Diego; and
  4. Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. of Stratford, Conn., and Raytheon Co. in El Segundo, Calif.

Each team will receive about $3 million for the initial 12-month study of concept development and system trades. After that, officials from DARPA and the Army will decide whether to down-select to two contractor teams for a nine-month Phase II that would involve completion of a demonstration system preliminary design.

If approved for Phase III, one contractor would have 30 months to design, fabricate and demonstrate a prototype system. Phase IV would mature the UCAR system for eventual entry into System Design and Development by the Army in 2010. If all phases proved successful, UCAR fielding could begin as early as 2013.

The goal is for an aircraft that costs no more than one-third the flyaway cost of a Comanche and about one-fourth the operation and support cost of an Apache.

It will be designed to carry conventional weapons, such as rockets, missiles, and guns, as well as non-lethal and directed energy weapons. However, it also will operate at low altitudes, requiring new approaches to system survivability.

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