Friday, April 10, 2009

AVWK: Secret Stealth UAV Spotted Over Afghansatan

By Bill Swettman
Aviation Week & Space technology

Credit where credit is due: Steve Trimble reported the first flight of General Atomics' Predator C earlier this week, and now Shephard's Darren Lake has an artist's concept of what looks like a stealthy UAV or UCAV that was sighted at Kandahar recently - pictures apparently exist but have not been published.

GA-ASI's jet has been in the works for years. The Predator B/Reaper was designed from the outset to accept either the Honeywell turboprop on the current aircraft or a Williams FJ44 turbofan, and the jet was almost ready to fly around the time of 9/11. However, due to strong interest from customers, this first Predator C was converted back to a prop job. Not long afterwards - I think it was Farnborough 2002 - GA-ASI boss Tom Cassidy was saying that the C had morphed into a new design.

Since then, it's been waiting for a customer and held back by the demands of the Reaper program - but its first flight and unveiling follows actions by two California congressmen to earmark funds to build two aircraft for deployment to Afghanistan, and as one of them comments, it will provide "strike" capability and "an additional covert capability."

So has someone made a quick deliberate security slip-up in Kandahar, as if to say: "Thanks, Congressman, but we've already got one of those"?

As for the Kandahar beast itself, it's hard to draw firm conclusions from a sketch based on a picture of unknown quality.

However, if it's operating out of Kandahar, it's a good first-order bet that the targets are in regions covered by Pakistani radar, since it's also a reasonable assumption that there might be a Pakistan AF radar tech or two whose allegiance is not where one would ideally like it to be.

But the same applies to a lot of people living around Kandahar, so one might also surmise that the mystery aircraft might be a bit short of range. (Otherwise, there are more secure bases in the UAE and Qatar.) A tech demo, quickly pressed into service, perhaps?


Related article:

Mystery UAV operating in Afghanistan
April 10, 2009
Afghanistan maybe the testing ground for a new, advanced but as yet undisclosed UCAV programme.
Pictures shown exclusively to Unmanned Vehicles magazine and taken at an airbase in the war-torn country reveal a large flying wing-type design, adopted by UCAV designers, but not yet seen on an operational type.
The image shown in the link below has been drawn directly from the photograph but none of the experts consulted by UV had any concrete idea of what the system might be.

The image shown to UV was taken from a long distance, as the aircraft taxied in on a hazy day, but the image was clear enough to show that this UAV’s design is like no other UAV in current operational service.
Amongst the distinctive features of the type is the ‘fat’ wing chord, and a large central fuselage fairing. The aircraft engine nozzle is the same half moon shape as the Lockheed P175 Pole Cat, but the wing is not cranked on its trailing edge like the Pole Cat is.

The fuselage fairing could support a large squared off intake, but is more likely to house a large satellite communications and sensor mix. Two large blisters either side of the central fairing are likely to the intakes for a single turbofan engine. These features probably won’t help the aircraft’s radar cross-section, although this probably isn’t important considering the theatre of operations in which it is flying.
The large doors inboard of the main landing gear may be bomb bay doors, indicating a strike capability for the type.

There are clearly the technological capabilities to build something like this inside Northrop Grumman, Boeing or Lockheed Martin. Looking at the shaping, our analyst said he would be inclined to think this comes from either Northrop or Lockheed.
The shaping is also suggestive of UCAV concepts around the start of the 2000s.There is a whole raft of wing design work that has gone on since 2002 in terms of how the X-47B has evolved, and the sorts of designs that Boeing was working with prior to the ending of that effort.

By Darren Lake, Editor - Unmanned Vehicles

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