DARPA expands robot plane work

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency officials awarded a $766.7 million contract to Boeing Co. to continue work on the X-45C Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) that will fly in demonstration tests in 2007.

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

The contract calls for Boeing officials to continue work on the design, development and demonstration of three J-UCAS vehicles and support systems during the next five years. The company previously received a $291 million contract on the program, according to an Oct. 12 DARPA statement.

"With this award to Boeing and previous awards to Northrop Grumman and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory now in place, the J-UCAS program is poised to serve in a pivotal role in the formation of the nation's defense vision and strategy," said Michael Francis, director of DARPA's J-UCAS program, in the agency's statement.

DARPA officials awarded a $1 billion contract to an industry team led by Northrop Grumman Corp. in August to also design, develop and demonstrate three J-UCAS vehicles and support systems. They awarded a $26.9 million contract to Johns Hopkins' laboratory in September to coordinate development of the operating system, which will help fly the aircraft, with help from officials from Boeing, Northrop Grumman and other firms.

J-UCAS marks the first program to develop an unmanned aerial vehicle flown by the two services. The aircraft will fly 1,500 nautical miles carrying 4,500 pounds of systems.

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