DARPA awards robot aircraft deal

Officials at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded a $1 billion contract to an industry team led by Northrop Grumman Corp. to build three robotic reconnaissance aircraft and a computer operating system to help fly them for the Air Force and the Navy.

The Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) marks the first program to develop an unmanned aerial vehicle flown by both services. The X-47B will fly 1,500 nautical miles carrying 4,500 pounds of radar and electronic warning systems, according to an Aug. 18 DARPA statement.

J-UCAS will consist of communications, navigation and sensor systems in an airframe designed to evade enemy radar. The Air Force and the Navy will use the robotic aircraft to spy in enemies' airspace and jam their air defense systems, the statement said.

"The vehicles are designed to survive in a high-threat environment and feature beyond-line-of-sight network connectivity for global operations," the statement said.

Northrop Grumman's team includes Lockheed Martin Corp. and Pratt & Whitney. The Air Force and the Navy will test the aircraft in 2007, the statement said.

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