The Northrop Grumman X-47B Navy Unmanned Combat Aerial System (N-UCAS) program has received a massive funding boost in the draft US Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), to the tune of US$2 billion over the next five years.
The X-47B is a growth development of the former X-47A program, and is a stealthy B-2 like shaped aircraft roughly the size of a Super Hornet intended to be operated from US Navy carriers. The funding increase is designed to boost the capability of the development system, and will possibly see it fielded operationally during its development phase.
“What we think it ought to do is deliver some sort of capability,” Rear Admiral Bill Burke, the Navy’s QDR director, told media on February 4. “It would be a real program; it wouldn’t be a demo. We’d like it to be able to deliver kinetic effects or do ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) missions for us.”
Northrop Grumman has experience with concurrent development and operational test programs, with its Global Hawk high altitude surveillance UAV seeing extensive operations over Afghanistan and Iraq during its development period.
Navy planners are still trying to define what the X-47B’s eventual mission will be; whether it’s a penetrating strike aircraft, an ISR platform, or a multirole strike fighter. The first X-47B commenced taxi trials late last year and is scheduled to fly sometime in 2010, before commencing carrier trials in 2011.