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The other X-45A

20 July 2012

The other X-45A

The X-45A J-UCAS in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force — photo courtesy of Jayne Davis

The year 2002 saw the U.S. Air Force directing an investigation into the potential for unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) tasking for the suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) — a mission category previously known more descriptively as “Iron Hand”, back in the day.

Northrop Grumman and Boeing coordinated in the effort producing a scaled composite aircraft — the X-45A — along with the electronics and computer software for autonomous missions. Yes, program the machine to fly, attack, identify/address threats/targets of opportunity, and return to base — all with little to no human interaction during the mission. As I have said in a previous post, this seems so very Skynet — á lá Terminator — in the machine vs. man SciFi genre film. No exciting name for the X-45A, though its development is historic, its name is the acronym J-UCAS (Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems).

Though scaled, the X-45a is a able threat carrying a payload of 1500 pounds (~680kg) at a speed of 550 mph (880kph). The freefall weapons of the X-45A are stored within two weapons bays and would be expected to be of the laser or GPS guided varieties of smart bombs.

Historically, the only two X-45A UCAVs built flew a preprogrammed mission over a test/weapons range in August 2004. One target was selected prior to launch with a second, and unknown, threat presented to the pair of autonomously operating  aircraft. The pair’s software correctly assessed the new development and made determinations based upon positions, weapons as well as fuel to attack both targets.

The X-45A on exhibit in the National Air & Space Museum on the National Mall has already been the subject of a post (the search window can easily find the post for you). The X-45A which is the subject of the images in this post were taken by Jayne Davis, who courteously lent these images to this blog under her copyright, and is displayed in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force which also provides this fact sheet.

The right quarter view showing the right side weapons bay door in the open position — photo courtesy of Jayne Davis

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