Sid wrote:USN UCLASS (X47B) system will have all such capabilities. 2020 onward we should see more mature unmanned strike platforms.
Ex-UCLASS (MQ-25) is not a penetrating strike aircraft but primarily a refueling recovery tanker with secondary ISR and strike roles. Designing survivable penetrating aircraft is hard enough, doing so on something that is unmanned and not expendable brings unique mission system challenges. Unlike the X-45C, the X-47B was not a stealth design but a stealth representative design. It will not be suitable for the new role so expect design changes in support of the MQ-25 proposal since it is still competitive since practically all of the X-47 unique capability (the aircraft carrier landing and handling) was shared with Boeing and Lockheed as was the requirement.
@JayS, Regarding using unmanned decoys, you don't need to outfit a fighter or make it unmanned to get the desired affects. The MALD and MALD-J's replicate performance, enhance signature and even have emissions that try to pass them on as actual fighters through a decoy payload. Their envelope overlaps the high subsonic envelope of a 4th generation strike fighter - Top speed Mach 0.93, altitude 35,000+ ft.
"In decoy function MALD can replicate US and allied [aircraft] by radar cross-section...to look like a fighter or a bomber. When you add the jamming function we can have the payload jam, jam certain frequencies or have it do the decoy function," MALD is pre-programmed on the ground prior to flight. "You can put eight missions into a MALD and each mission can have a hundred waypoints and at each waypoint MALD can climb or dive, turn right or left, speed up or slow down. You can programme it to do whatever kind of scenario you want to develop to confuse the enemy," White said. "It has a very large operating envelope. It will fly from 2,000 ft to 35,000 ft and from Mach 0.4 to Mach 0.9. It is basically a pre-guided jet"
Up to 100 waypoints can be programmed into the mission flight profile. Time-of-arrival control is designed to be accurate to ±20 seconds at each waypoint.
The Signature Augmentation System (SAS) payload carried by MALD contains active radar repeaters, across three frequency bands, to stimulate a range of relative radar cross section (RCS) sizes. "So the MALD can mimic a cruise missile, a fighter, or a bomber depending on characteristics [magnitude and scintillation] of the return," explained Jim Long, Raytheon's MALD business development lead. "The intent is to stimulate and saturate advanced IADS so that they have to 'honour the threat'. So you want a [radar] response of sufficient fidelity that the IADS won't be able to distinguish the difference."
Like MALD, the MALD-J is an expendable UAV deployed from an F-16 fighter or B-52 bomber aircraft at stand-off ranges to penetrate enemy airspace and enhance aircrew survivability in the face of the IADS threat. Where it differs is in its capability to perform as either a decoy (as it retains the original SAS payload), or as a stand-in jammer.
Stand-in jamming is a combination of tactics and techniques whereby an UAV, equipped with a jammer payload, is deployed in close proximity to the threat radar, and within the lethal engagement envelope of associated SAMs. In this way, it provides screening for other platforms.
"With MALD-J you have a system that can be either a decoy or a jammer," Long said. "You can't be both at the same time, but you do have the ability to go from decoy to jammer, or jammer to decoy, at every waypoint in the mission plan."
Following the delivery of three MALD production lots to the USAF, the programme office converted the procurement line to MALD-J from Lot 4 onwards. Raytheon is continuing series production of MALD-J to meet a USAF inventory goal of 3,000 systems: the delivery of the 1,000th MALD-J, as part of production Lot 5, was marked in May 2014. The company is currently delivering production Lot 8, and was brought under contract for Lot 9 (with options for Lot 10/11) in June 2016.
The ability to accommodate and interchange alternative payloads was proved in 2015 under the CERBERUS [Countermeasure Expendable with Replaceable Block Elements for Reactive Unmanned Systems Multi-Mission Jammer] Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) jointly conducted by the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and Raytheon. A Military Utility Assessment, conducted in June during the biannual 'Northern Edge' exercise in Alaska, demonstrated successful captive flights of a modular, rapid replacement architecture for alternative MALD-J payloads.
Conceived to address emerging threats in the Pacific Command area of responsibility, the precept of CERBERUS is to deliver a net-enabled modular expendable jamming system. The enabler for this is the introduction of reconfigurable, flexible, and rapidly replaceable nosecone payloads hosted by the MALD air vehicle.
The CERBERUS JCTD design solution was engineered as a cost effective means to grow the capabilities of MALD to address new missions and target sets, and mitigate the impacts of payload obsolescence. Evolved over a four-year programme in collaboration with the US Pacific Command and the Naval Air Systems Command (the Airborne Electronic Attack Systems and EA-6B Program Office [PMA-234]), the project developed a payload system architecture integrated with a quick interchange structural connection.
The critical technology for the quick-attachment technique was in fact borrowed from IndyCar racing technology. In this case Dallara adapted and repurposed a proprietary half-turn quick lock to meet aerospace form factors and environmental requirements.
For the purposes of the Military Utility Assessment, the CERBERUS-adapted MALD vehicle was carried beneath an SAI-operated Sabreliner 40 flight test asset, with the payload controlled from within the aircraft cabin. This allowed for real-time control and data analysis/performance evaluation during flight testing.
According to Long, four different EW payloads - separately developed by NRL, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon - were used in 12 operationally relevant missions. "The interchangeable payloads, each customised for a specific mission and threat, were swapped onto the captive carry vehicle in less than one minute," he said. "It really demonstrated the concept of MALD as a 'truck' able to carry various different kinds of payload."
Raytheon sees that payload flexibility going beyond a jammer: other options could include a kinetic warhead, a cyber payload, or an RF pulse device. "It is a relatively easy integration," Long said. "What's more you can deploy these different payloads in the [MALD] vehicle which the enemy can't distinguish between."