Definitions

captured air vehicle

Unmanned combat air vehicle

An unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) or "combat drone" is an experimental class of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs). They differ from ordinary UAVs, because they are designed to deliver weapons (attack targets) – possibly with a great degree of autonomy.

Current UCAV concepts call for an aircraft which would be able to operate virtually autonomously. It will be programmed with route and target details, and conduct the mission without help from human controllers.

Laws of war

Most countries are bound to international laws of war (such as the Geneva Conventions). These laws govern the conduct of participants in war (and also defines combatants). These laws place a burden upon participants to limit collateral damage through proper identification of targets and distinction between combatants and non-combatants. It is in this area where the use of completely autonomous weapon systems is problematic, since it is difficult to assign accountability to a person. It is for these reasons that current designs still incorporate an element of human control (a "man in the loop") – meaning that a ground controller must authorize weapons release.

Concerns also include the human controller's role, because if he/she is a civilian and not a member of the military (which is quite possible with developmental and highly sophisticated weapons systems) he/she would be considered a combatant under international law which carries a distinct set of responsibilities and consequences. It is for this reason that the "man in the loop" should ideally be a member of the military that understands and accepts his/her role as combatant.

Current concepts

Note: Some of these are not aircraft prototypes but technology demonstrators (TD) that are not expected to enter service.

The French Air Force is not expected to start fielding the Dassault Neuron, for it is a pure demonstrator .

The Israeli Air Force plans to procure a large long-range UCAV that resembles a fighter-jet. The Israeli UCAV, named Eitan, sports a wingspan of 26 meters and a takeoff weight of four tons. The state-owned Israel Aircraft Industries developed the Eitan. Eitan would be a multi-purpose UCAV with automatic takeoff and landing able to locate and destroy mobile ballistic missile launchers in reconnaissance and attack missions.

J-UCAS

The J-UCAS UCAV would use stealth technologies and carry precision-guided weapons such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) or precision miniature munitions, such as the Small-Diameter Bomb to suppress enemy air defenses.

Controllers could use real-time data sources, including satellites, to plan for and respond to changes on and around the battlefield.

USAF Hunter-Killer

The United States Air Force has shifted its UCAV program from medium-range tactical strike aircraft to long-range strategic bombers. The technology of the Long Range Strike program is based on the Lockheed Martin Polecat demonstrator.

Sagem Sperwer

The Sagem Sperwer B is a long endurance tactical UAV. The Sperwer can carry two Rafael-made Spike LR missile during 12 hours (can be extend to 20) in a range of 200 km. All ground facilities of the sperwer SDT (use by France, Netherlands, Sweden, Greece, Canada and Denmark) are compatible with the Sperwer B.

Elbit Hermes 450

The Israeli Air Force, which operates a squadron of Hermes 450s out of Palmachim Airbase south of Tel Aviv, has adapted the Hermes 450 for use as an assault UAV, reportedly equipping it with two Hellfire missiles or, according to various sources, two Rafael-made missiles. According to Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese and independent reports, the Israeli assault UAV has seen extensive service in the Gaza Strip and was used intensively in the Second Lebanon War. Israel has not denied this capability, but to date, its policy has been not to officially confirm it either.

BAE Taranis

Taranis is a British demonstrator programme for unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) technology. It is part of the UK's Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicle (Experimental) programme (SUAV[E]). BAE describes Taranis's role in this context as following: "This £124m four year programme is part of the UK Government’s Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicle Experiment (SUAVE) and will result in a UCAV demonstrator with fully integrated autonomous systems and low observable features." The Taranis demonstrator will have an MTOW of about 8000 kilograms and be of a similar size to the BAE Hawk- making it one of the world's largest UAVs - that will be stealthy, fast and be able to deploy a range of munitions over a number of targets and be able to defend itself against manned and other unmanned enemy aircraft. The first steel was cut in September 2007 and ground testing will start in early 2009. The first flight of the Taranis is planned for the first quarter of 2010. The demonstrator will have two internal weapons bays. With the inclusion of "full autonomy" the intention is thus for this platform to be able to "think for itself" for a large part of the mission.

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