Lockheed developing unmanned F-35 jet

Unread postPosted: 15 Aug 2006, 23:13
by idesof
Hot off the wire...

Lockheed Developing Unmanned F-35 Jet

(AP) WASHINGTON - Lockheed Martin Corp. has designed ways to convert its new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter into a combat drone as part of a broad push into robot technologies, company officials said Tuesday.

Lockheed hopes to become as famous for its drones as Northrop Grumman Corp. and privately held General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., the companies behind the well-known Global Hawk and Predator unmanned aerial vehicles. At a Washington press briefing, Lockheed executives regaled reporters with the company's range of related research.

"We're in the business and we probably have been less aggressive than we should have been," said Richard O'Lear, vice president for unmanned aerial systems.

In recent years, Lockheed has devoted 30 percent to 40 percent of its aeronautics investment to unmanned systems, said Frank Mauro, Lockheed vice president for advanced systems development. He said the company now is making up for its previous single-minded focus on the F-35 program, a $276 billion initiative to replace thousands of aging fighters around the world.

The sensors developed for the Joint Strike Fighter have a range of potential drone applications, he said. Also, the company's Skunk Works unit has been working over the past two years to design an F-35 that doesn't need a pilot.

This work isn't part of Lockheed's fighter development contract, Mauro said, but the company now has a blueprint in case the Pentagon comes calling.

Lockheed expects an unmanned F-35 would cost roughly the same as a standard plane with a pilot, he said.

The company has envisioned that two piloted fighters could be accompanied by four unmanned fighters without the full suite of high-tech sensors.

"Those are basically external bomb carriers," Mauro said.


Also see: <a href="news_article1924.html">Unmanned F-35 in the works</a>

RE: Lockheed Developing Unmanned F-35 Jet

Unread postPosted: 16 Aug 2006, 01:23
by parrothead
I'm not surprised in the least. I can see how a few extra jets without pilots would help - just carry the bombs and drop 'em where you tell 'em to, but then there's the extra maintenance, fuel, etc. And then the Air Force would probably want 'em all man rated so that they wouldn't have to worry about running out of manned jets etc.

Definitely interesting to ponder :) !

RE: Lockheed Developing Unmanned F-35 Jet

Unread postPosted: 16 Aug 2006, 01:52
by skrip00
I only see it being useful in the most dangerous of missions.

Unread postPosted: 16 Aug 2006, 20:56
by dwightlooi
Actually, I see many uses for unmanned F-35s that can be controlled by nearby manned F-35s or other aircrafts.

For example, if you are doing Air defence Suppression against long range SAM systems like the S400, you may want to send have an unmanned F-35 flying at 15,000 ft and 100km behind feeding EW data to a manned one flying under the radar horizon of the enemy at 500 ft with external AARGMs. The high altitude aircraft should be able to stay well outside the detection range of the enemy radar systems while feeding its sensor data to the low flying aircraft which needs to get closer to launch the AARGMs. And in anycase the ONLY aircraft ever exposed is the unmanned and stealthy one.

If EVERY F-35 receives integrated drone mode software, it'll afford field commanders tremendous flexibity in the employment of the aircraft.

Unread postPosted: 17 Aug 2006, 00:59
by skrip00
I'm not a big fan of unmanned.

Unread postPosted: 17 Aug 2006, 01:31
by idesof
skrip00 wrote:I'm not a big fan of unmanned.


I am. Think of the possibilities...

First of all, the idea of an unmanned F-35 has its limitations, principal among them being cost. The F-35 is a flying sensor platform if there ever was one, and because of that, although less expensive than the Raptor, it is still a very expensive aircraft, far more expensive than, say, an F-15 or F-16. Therefore, an unmanned is not a big force-multiplier in my book, given that the key advantages of an unmanned system are lower cost of purchase, ownership and operation. In short, expendability. An unmanned F-35 is by no means expendable, even if it is more expendable than a pilot.

Picture this, however. For air-to-air combat, you develop a light, robust, exceedingly stealthy AMRAAM carrier, far stealthier than even an F-22 or F-35 because you don't have to worry about maneuverability, sensor apertures or a cockpit. Thus, you bury your intakes and your nozzles in a flying wing, you use a non-afterburning turbofan--ensuring low IR emissions--and you don't even carry any but the most rudimentary sensors on board. How do you use it? An F-35 or F-22 as a mother ship radiating its AESA from miles away gives targetting updates to this UCAV. The UCAV gets within AMRAAM range, undetected, preferably in a stern attack, and does away with the opposition. Such a UCAV can carry up to six AMRAAMs internally and still remain very light and small. Virtually undetectably AND quite cheap. One F-22 or F-35 per every four UCAVs. That's 24 AMRAAMs per manned platform, not including the manned platform itself. I would be VERY surprised if the USAF is not already planning something very similar to this.

For AG missions, picture a very similar scheme, replacing the AMRAAMS with SDBs.

Joint manned/unmanned systems such as that outlined above are the way to go. One can only hope the USAF has the vision and the guts to accept it, and that fighter jocks don't get in the way of the future.

Unread postPosted: 17 Aug 2006, 01:58
by skrip00
I dunno... But why waste more money on AtA UCAVs when the F-22A already does the job and has an RCS of a small marble...

What real gains do you get for the costs of development?

IMO, UCAVs will merely be the "smart bombs" of the 21st century. Except, these bombs can return home. 90% of all other fighting will still be done by human beings at the controls.

Unread postPosted: 17 Aug 2006, 02:12
by afnsucks
I dont know if I like that. In all honestly I hate the idea of UAVs. It takes away from the spirit of aviation when you don't have a human. Everyone says its safer but war itself is unsafe. If I got shot down by an enemy pilot I'd kick myself in the sack but to get shot down by a UAV? Man talk about insult to injury.

Unread postPosted: 17 Aug 2006, 03:01
by Corsair1963
Seems like the F-35 would be a very expensive platform for a drone?

Unread postPosted: 17 Aug 2006, 04:37
by skrip00
UCAVs are more vulnerable to enemy ECM tactics. Creative jamming and using ASATs on commo-sats will make them nothing more than pretty model airplanes.

Unread postPosted: 17 Aug 2006, 04:52
by idesof
skrip00 wrote:UCAVs are more vulnerable to enemy ECM tactics. Creative jamming and using ASATs on commo-sats will make them nothing more than pretty model airplanes.


:roll: On the basis of that logic, we might as well scrap JDAMs, TLAMs, SDBs and any other system that uses GPS as its primary means of targeting. And pray tell, exactly what ASAT will reach a GPS satellite stationed in geostationary orbit? And on that basis of that logic, the U.S.'s whole netcentric warfare approach should be thrown out. Such so-called "creative jamming" will have been destroyed on the first night/day of any war. And you must remember that UCAVs will not be "flown" by a human pilot. All any UCAV will receive are basic navigational and/or targeting updates along with attack commands. Sure, any military force must be prepared for the eventuality that their communication nodes will be compromised, but that in no way invalidates UCAVs any more than it affects, say, the Global Hawk or, for that matter, JDAM. Let me know when we start fighting the aliens from Independence Day. Then I'll start getting worried about your far-fetched scenario.

Unread postPosted: 17 Aug 2006, 04:56
by skrip00
GPS isnt the issue. Most UCAVs will invariably have to depend on comm-sats to relay video and targetting data. Without such satellites, remote-UCAVs are screwed, and autonomous ones are none the wiser.

Even without GPS weapons, manned aircraft can still go in and use their AESA/SAR radars and laser designators to take out targets.

Unread postPosted: 17 Aug 2006, 05:03
by idesof
skrip00 wrote:GPS isnt the issue. Most UCAVs will invariably have to depend on comm-sats to relay video and targetting data. Without such satellites, remote-UCAVs are screwed, and autonomous ones are none the wiser.

Even without GPS weapons, manned aircraft can still go in and use their AESA/SAR radars and laser designators to take out targets.


First of all, the likelihood that any enemy short of the former Soviet Union will have ASATs any time soon is remote, to say the least. Secondly, absent satcoms, you will have relay nodes in theater--ships, aircraft and ground-based systems. Third, UCAVs can always be given specific fixed target coordinates before flight. This would not be any different than what is done with TLAMs. Think of a UCAV as a TLAM that can attack several targets in one sortie and come back to base to rearm and refuel. Face it: the F-35 will be the last manned fighter the USAF is ever going to develop.

Unread postPosted: 17 Aug 2006, 05:21
by skrip00
People keep saying that.

But can a UCAV buzz enemy helicopters attacking a civilian population while respecting ROEs?

Can a UCAV drop a smart bomb on an enemy helicopter (which is flying) in support of ground ops?

Is a UCAV as responsive as a manned aircraft with sensors? Can it read the tactical situation? Can it make quick decisions about which target to bomb and at which moment?

ASAT is easy. Just launch a nuke into orbit, and you have alot of dead birds. Or use lasers to dazzle and burn.

Unread postPosted: 17 Aug 2006, 23:20
by dwightlooi
Let's put it this way. Using the F-35 to replace whatever UCAV is being planned for is a bad idea. But making the software changes to allow the F-35 to fly pilotless with AI control governed by simple comands from nearby F-35s, F-22s, AWACs or ground stations is a terrific idea! It opens up a whole host of operational flexibility. An all it really takes is some additional software. The F-35 already has more than enough hardware to support automomous take off, flight, detection, relay, landing and other UCAV related functionality.

Unread postPosted: 18 Aug 2006, 05:21
by sirius
It's a *very* expensive UAV. Far easier and cheaper to convert old F-16s for the role. The FBW system makes remote control connections easy. You'll see QF-16s replacing QF-4s at some point for that reason as well as their lower operating costs. An F-16UAV won't be as stealthy as an F-35UAV, but they don't need to get close to carry out the attacks anyway. And since they'll increasingly be dropping bombs from standoff ranges, that further reduces the need for UAVs anyway.

And since Lockheed Martin says an unmanned F-35 would cost as much as a piloted one, imagine the amount of paperwork the Air Commander in the theatre of operations would have to complete before he could expend one. :-)

Unread postPosted: 18 Aug 2006, 07:06
by Gordo
dwightlooi wrote: An all it really takes is some additional software



First off, it is never as simple as that. Secondly, the F-35 is supposed to be a versatile, yet affordable airplane. It costs a lot of money to iron out all of the bugs in computer software. The cost over runs of the f-22, I read, were for the most part due to ironing out software problems.

While this may have tactical applications, there are more cost-effective ideas. If all you want is an unmanned deep strike aircraft or SEAD support, use a smaller UCAV like the x-45. This idea of an unmanned F-35 should be filed under "neat but unneccesary".

Unread postPosted: 19 Aug 2006, 03:11
by RonO
Bit puzzled here. I read these big UAVs must have stealth to handle air defenses then I read UAV's won't need protection because other aircraft will have taken care of said defences.

I'd like to know how UAV's will handle threats like enemy fighters because right now they have zero defence. How would they even know how to manouver to stand the best chance of evading. If you think there's software that can do that, think again, there's not.

Unread postPosted: 21 Aug 2006, 19:51
by locum
UAVs/ UCAVs can be designed in 2 concepts: 1. re-usable cruise missile, 2. manned plane converted into U(C)AV.
Nr. 2 will work for old de-commissioned fighters acting as airborne targets (QF-100/ 106/ 4 etc.).
Nr. 1 is the right concept for a UCAV.
Remember those non-stealthy low-tech cruise missiles launched by the Iraqies during OIF, none of them was intercepted, not by state-of-the-art PAC-3 Patriots, not by CAPing fighters. X-45/47, nEuron etc. are all-aspect stealthy, the F-35 is head-on stealthy.

'How would they even know how to manouver .... evading. If you think there's software that can do that, think again, there's not.'
There's Still not, but that is in the works, for example: DERA in the UK is developing this kind of software by using genetic algorithms.