WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB - U.S. Air Force researchers are asking the Composite Engineering Inc. (CEI) Unmanned Systems Division in Sacramento, Calif., to develop low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology that can lend itself to large-scale aerial attacks in remote regions where forward basing is difficult or impossible.
Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) officials at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, announced a $40.8 million cost-share contract to CEI for the Low-Cost Attritable Strike Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Demonstration project.
The Air Force is asking CEI to develop enabling technologies for affordable UAVs able to carry out long-range and high-speed attacks that are of sufficiently low cost that loss of these aircraft in battle could be tolerated.
CEI experts will design, develop, assemble, and test a technical baseline for a high-speed, long-range, low-cost, limited-life strike UAV, identify key enabling technologies for future low-cost aircraft demonstrations, and provide a test drone for future capability and technology demonstrations.
Tight defense budgets and many kinds of military threats throughout the world are encouraging the Air Force to make dramatic reductions in the costs of attack UAVs to bring mass to the engagement, and increase defensive costs to potential adversaries, officials say.
Researchers want to trade the relatively high costs of UAV performance, design life, reliability, and maintainability for low-cost attritable aircraft intended for reuse with limited life and number of sorties.
The goal is to establish a benchmark concluding in a flight demonstration that will test the bounds of what can be accomplished in a short time to establish a baseline system cost against a notional set of strike vehicle requirements.
Air Force researchers want to develop UAV concepts that offer dramatic cost reductions to bring many unmanned aircraft to future engagements. The key will be to drive down the costs of unmanned strike aircraft, and reduce the time it takes to develop them.
On this contract the government share is $7.3 million and CEI's share is $33.5 million.
CEI will do the work in Sacramento, Calif., and should be finished by April 2019.