'Target confirmation, arm and release consent.' With those three commands from its human operator, a Boeing X-45A unmanned combat aircraft made aviation history by releasing an inert (non-explosive) Global Positioning System-guided Small Smart Bomb and hitting a ground target at the US Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division Range in California in mid-April (2004).
'For the first time, an unmanned combat system has demonstrated that it can successfully deliver precision weapons on target,' said Boeing Integrated Defense Systems President and CEO Jim Albaugh.
'Unmanned systems like the X-45 are well suited for high-risk missions like the suppression of enemy air defense and precision strike. Once fully developed, these systems will provide commanders with effective and affordable solutions that compliment and support fighters on the ground, in the air, or at sea.'
During the test an operator authorised release, and when the aircraft determined it was within range the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) X-45A technology demonstrator dropped the guided 250-pound weapon from its internal weapons bay at 35,000 ft. and 0.67 Mach (approximately 442 mph). The aircraft autonomously performed all manoeuvres, bay door operations, and weapon-away release sequences under human operator supervision.
The next major milestone for the X-45 J-UCAS program will be the demonstration of multiple-vehicle coordinated flight. That event will take place following a series of single-vehicle checkout operations and coordinated flights between an X-45A and a manned T-33.
The X-45C, a much larger version of the A model, is being built by Boeing IDS in St. Louis, with its first flight scheduled for mid-2006. The J-UCAS X-45 program is a Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency/U.S. Air Force/U.S. Navy/Boeing effort to demonstrate the technical feasibility, military utility and operational value of an unmanned air combat system for both the Air Force and the Navy.
A unit of The Boeing Company, Integrated Defence Systems is one of the world's largest space and defence businesses. Headquartered in St. Louis, Boeing Integrated Defence Systems is a $27 billion business. It provides systems solutions to its global military, government and commercial customers. It is a leading provider of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; the world's largest military aircraft manufacturer; the world's largest satellite manufacturer and a leading provider of space-based communications; the primary systems integrator for U.S. missile defence; NASA's largest contractor; and a global leader in launch services.