This article first appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology.
Three companies are vying to secure an unmanned air vehicle demonstrator contract at the heart of the British Defense Ministry’s so-called Novel Air Capability Vision, but details of their respective proposals for the program are being treated as classified.
BAE Systems, missile manufacturer MBDA and Cranfield Aerospace are understood to have submitted proposals at the end of October. The contract for the selected concept could be awarded early in 2010.
The overall program is intended to run for around three years with the aim of providing a flying vehicle, along with the possibility of an "experimental operational capability" by 2015.
Neither MBDA nor BAE Systems were in a position to discuss their respective submissions beyond confirming them.
The novel effort is being pursued alongside more "conventional" Defense Ministry UAV and unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) projects, its Mantis and Taranis technology demonstrator programs, respectively. BAE Systems is leading the Taranis UCAV and Mantis medium-altitude long-endurance programs, while its Herti tactical system is once again undergoing operational evaluation in Afghanistan.
One aim of the air capability vision is to drive innovation and technology exploration to meet what is a challenging set of "essential and highly desirable requirements." These include system survivability, maneuverability, payload integration and transit speed.
In discussing the general aims of the capability vision initiative, the ministry describes the effort as intended to "tackle . . . high-risk, high-return" opportunities offering a "step change in planned or future capabilities."
The program could be of particular significance to MBDA. Expanding into the UAV sector using its guided-weapons expertise is a clear growth path for the European company, though it could place it in direct competition with its parent companies, BAE Systems, EADS and Finmeccancia
MBDA is teamed with Selex Galileo and GKN, with its proposal dubbed Black Shadow.
The outline requirement for the Novel Air System program is to look at development of a reusable long-range strike platform capable of penetrating and operating in defended airspace. A target range of more than 600 mi. is called for; another design driver is that the air vehicle be capable of being launched and recovered from a frigate-size ship. The last requirement would suggest a vertical take-off and recovery design.
The design should also have a loiter capability in the target area to engage the target, carry out damage assessment, and to reengage if needed. The ability for the system to be operated in an urban environment is also required.
Novel Air Capability is one strand of the U.K.’s Defense Technology Plan that was unveiled last February. The driver behind the novel air capability element of the overall research effort was to examine a "more cost-effective means of achieving the effects currently provided by manned aircraft and cruise missiles by using new concepts in [UAVs and] unmanned combat air vehicles," according to the technology plan.
Discussing the concept further its adds: "The specific effects under consideration are the delivery of novel payloads over remote hostile territory and, specifically, within the urban environment."
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