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19 December 2018

Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV)

Author: Dr. David L. Rockwell Philip Finnegan Steven J. Zaloga, Drawn From: Defense & Aerospace Companies Briefing

Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV)

The Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) is the most futuristic application for UAVs, and has seen considerable turmoil over the past decade, while the services thrashed out what they expected from the program. DARPA headed the original program, followed by a DoD consolidation, only to see DoD again break up the program with the Navy pursuing the carrier-based J-UCAS and the Air Force effort disappearing "into the black".

The Navy program seems to have ended in 2016 with the shift from the UCLASS strike/ISR to the CBARS aerial refueling system. However, it is also possible that the Navy has shifted its stealth/strike UAS "into the black”.

The Air Force has been the more enthusiastic proponent of this technology. It is unbelievable that the

 USAF simply dropped interest in UCAV in 2006, and presumably it is engaged in a classified program. The Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel is one sign of a classified ISR program, but it would not be especially surprising if Boeing is developing a UCAV with the Phantom Ray being simply a public cover for a black program. The USAF may pursue more than a single UCAV program, one aimed at tactical strike requirements and one for long-range penetrating ISR requirements. The tactical program would most likely be a stealth recon-naissance/strike platform aimed at providing a capability to conduct suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) missions if the air defense environment becomes more hostile than it is today and would replace the recently retired F-117 Blackhawk.

The problem with the Air Force program is that much of this activity will probably be in the black world for several years. As a result, the scope and direction of the program will be publicly invisible.

The Air Force is beginning to pursue a long-range platform to take up the slack from its aging and hodge-podge collection of B-52s, B-1s and B-2s. The Air Force has stated that it would lean towards a manned option for the B-21 Raider strategic bomber, but given its past predilection for black aircraft programs, an unmanned bomber remains a possibility, or an “optionally” manned aircraft.

About the Author

Philip Finnegan

Philip Finnegan

Phil is Director of Corporate Analysis at Teal Group. He has provided strategic and market analysis for clients in commercial aerospace and defense, including major U.S. and European prime contractors, since joining Teal fifteen years ago.

He also writes and edits Teal's Defense and Aerospace Companies Briefing, which analyzes the performance, outlook and strategies of 50 aerospace and defense companies in the United States, Europe, Asia and South America. He is a co-author of the annual World Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems with responsibility for UAV companies.

Steven J. Zaloga

Steven J. Zaloga

Steve assumed responsibilities for the World Missiles & UAVs Briefing during the summer of 1993. He also developed and maintains the International Defense Briefing, and is co-author of our annual sector study, World Military Unmanned Aerial Systems Market Profile & Forecast.

Dr. David L. Rockwell

Dr. David L. Rockwell

Dr. David L. Rockwell has been Senior Analyst, Electronics at Teal Group since 1995, where he is editor of Teal's Military Electronics Briefing (MEB) as well as co-author of Teal's annual World Military Unmanned Aerial Systems: Market Profile and Forecast. He also contributes regular monthly military electronics News Briefs to the Teal Group website.

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