The USAF's next-generation unmanned air system could be a 'lightweight-fighter sized, 20,000 pound' aircraft with 'minimally stealthy' characteristics, according to the service's chief procurement officer for UAVs.
Col. William Bridges, chief of the airborne reconnaissance division in the office of the assistant secretary of the air force for acquisition, says that an analysis of alternatives (AoA) for what the service calls the Next Generation UAV or MQ-X could get under way in 2010, with a program start (budgets permitting) in 2012. The goal is a fielded capability in 2020. Bridges was speaking at a London conference organized by Hanson Wade.'
The service's views of MQ-X have changed since it issued a request for information in 2008. 'Two years ago we thought it would be the next improvement on the Predator - now we're thinking of something brand new.' Almost twice the size of the MQ-9A Reaper, the new aircraft would have turbofan power for higher response speeds and would be designed as 'a truck' for new and emerging sensors and weapons.'
The aircraft would be 'minimally stealthy', Bridges says, with some stealth-related shaping but few if any special materials. The rationale is that for a high-altitude, long-loiter vehicle to evade detection would require a level of stealth that's not affordable in the numbers that the USAF wants. It would probably use an off-the-shelf engine to reduce development costs.'
In what might be a sign of a new trend, Bridges also prefers to use the term 'remotely piloted aircraft' or RPA for UAVs. 'They have a pilot in the loop, and to me 'unmanned aircraft' sounds like 'horseless carriage',' Bridges says.'"