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Prima foto del nuovo UCAV Inglese

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Ecco la prima foto del nuovo gingillo della BAEsystems sviluppato fin'ora nel massimo riservo e in prova in questi giorni nel poligono Australiano di Woomera.

A seguito l'articolo tratto da Aviation Week




Britain, working under a blanket of secrecy, has been test-flying an unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator since late 2003 as part of a broader technology initiative to develop its next-generation of long-range deep-strike platforms.


The BAE Systems Raven low-observable unmanned combat air vehicle design first flew on Dec. 17, 2003--100 years to the day after the Wright Brothers--a date selected in part to reflect the significance of the event for the company's future strategy.


The import of the British Defense Ministry's clearance for BAE to begin to discuss the Raven also plays into the far wider issue of U.K. collaboration in developing an operational UCAV. Britain had signed up for Washington's now defunct Joint-Unmanned Combat Air System, with a transatlantic acquisition program likely to follow. Continuing--and, some British sources suggest, worsening--problems with British access on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program also play into this arena.


Raven underscores the U.K.'s national capability in UCAV developments--and that it is not beholden to Washington, or for that matter, anywhere--in pursuing such systems. A full-scale UCAV technology demonstration program is due to be launched by London this year, building on Raven, and other, still classified, research and development work.


Defense Ministry sources have previously confirmed the U.K. is funding the development of what they dubbed "nugget technologies" that would provide the government "leverage" in any collaborative environment. Examples of such technology include low observables (LO), autonomous operation and sensor integration.


TWO RAVEN AIRFRAMES HAVE BEEN BUILT and test flown using the Woomera Range in Australia. The choice of site reflects the sensitivity surrounding the program, while also providing near-guaranteed acceptable flying weather.


The Defense Ministry has been funding BAE's LO research into future air systems since at least the early 1990s. Initially aimed at a manned replacement for the Tornado GR4 strike aircraft, through the Testbed stealth aircraft non-flying demonstrator, the emphasis began to shift to LO UCAV and unmanned recon air vehicle platforms even before the Testbed program was completed in 1999. BAE's Nightjar I and Nightjar II ministry-funded research examined a number of airframe bodies using the company's radar cross-section range at its Warton site.


The jet-powered Raven's blended wing-body airframe, with outer wing control surfaces aligned with the trailing edge, reduces radio-frequency scattering. The lack of vertical or horizontal control surfaces also helps reduce the radar cross-section.


The vehicle is manufactured from carbon-fiber composite, with the fuselage shell produced at BAE's Samlesbury site in the northwest of England. This facility also produces composite structures for the F-35.


Raven fed into BAE's work on the Defense Ministry's Future Offensive Air System (FOAS) program. In 1997, the ministry launched study work into the role a "UAV" might have in meeting the FOAS deep-strike mission. The Strategic UAV (Experiment) (SUAVE) succeeded FOAS in 2005. Rolls-Royce and Smiths Aerospace also are involved in ongoing risk-reduction work for the ministry on SUAVE, building on the Raven.


BAE flew a remotely piloted blended-wing demonstrator, the Kestrel, in 2002, Andy Wilson, BAE director of sales, autonomous airborne systems, says. Raven, however, was intended to explore autonomous flight operation using a "highly aerodynamically unstable" airframe. The UCAV demonstrator has a duplex digital flight control system.


BAE is exploring modularity in its approach to UCAV/URAV and UAVs. Raven shares the same central fuselage shell as the Corax strategic reconnaissance URAV design, with a common flight control system. Corax, however, has a high-aspect ratio wing optimized for high-altitude long-endurance flight. Such a wing also lends itself to being fitted with a conformal array radar antenna, if blending and flexing issues can be resolved. As with Raven, the airframe was aerodynamically unstable, and part of the program was to look at autonomous control of such a design. Similar schemes, such as the U.S. Darkstar, have suffered controllability issues.


Both Raven and Corax are sub-scale airframes--and although the company is unable yet to release size data on either air vehicle, Corax has a 30-ft.-plus wingspan.


A Corax-style URAV could form a part of the Dabinett requirement. This program is looking at the U.K.'s future intelligence surveillance target acquisition and reconnaissance (Istar) needs. Part of this covers what is sometimes referred to as the Long-Range Long-Endurance or global surveillance capability that could be fulfilled by a strategic low-observable UAV. Research into space-based radar is also ongoing.


SUAVE cuts across two of the Defense Ministry's Equipment Capability Directorates, Deep Target Attack and Istar. The Deep Target Attack directorate has asked that industry examine a number of UCAV-related areas, both in terms of design and development, and operations.


While Raven and Corax are sub-scale airframes, industry and ministry officials are discussing whether the next-technology demonstrator should be a full-scale airframe. This program would include an internal weapons carriage and deployment. One point under review is whether a full-size UCAV airframe is actually necessary to achieve this.


The government's Defense Industrial Strategy policy document, published in December 2005, notes: "Building on the success of these programs [Raven] we intend to move forward . . . with a more substantial TDP designed to give us and industry a better understanding of key technologies of [broader] relevance to UAVs and UCAVs."


BAE is not only focusing on UCAV and URAV development. Its Herti family of air vehicles is intended to provide a medium-altitude long-endurance surveillance capability. The Herti 1A design has endurance well in excess of 25 hr., and an operational radius of more than 540 naut. mi., says Wilson. This version of Herti has a wingspan of 41 ft., with a glass-fiber fuselage. The system becomes autonomous on the runway.


HERTI HAS BEEN TEST FLOWN with an electro-optical payload in a chin-mounted turret, and flight trials using lightweight synthetic aperture radar will likely be carried out later this year, Wilson adds. Rail-launch trials of the vehicle are also being considered. The system uses image-processing algorithms to automatically identify areas, or objects, of interest, as part of its imagery collection and exploitation system.


The company believes Herti, which has been flying from Machrihanish in southwest Scotland, has clear applications for military and civil surveillance roles.

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