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Last Updated: Monday, 23 August, 2004, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
$1bn to build unmanned fighter
X-47B (Northrop Grumman)
The X-47B will be designed with "network-centric" warfare in mind
A US defence contractor has received more than $1bn in funding to build a prototype unmanned fighter aircraft for the American military.

Northrop Grumman will build at least three full-scale flight prototypes for the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) over five years.

The contract win will allow Northrop to continue work on its X-47B combat drone.

It is hoped that many unmanned fighters would be networked and controlled from land or from an aircraft carrier.

Key missions envisaged for the vehicle include suppression of enemy air defences, precision strike, electronic attack and surveillance deep into enemy airspace.

Boeing is already developing another drone called the X-45C under the same operational assessment phase of the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) demonstration programme, led by Darpa.

J-UCAS aims to find a stealthy, unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) with integrated sensors, navigation and communications that can operate in the network-centric battlefield of tomorrow.

Network-centric warfare involves gaining the upper hand against an enemy through information superiority, enabling resources to be deployed faster and more effectively than has been possible in the past.

"The X-47B promises to be a highly capable air warfare system, well suited to support the full spectrum of military operations," said Scott Winship, Northrop Grumman's J-UCAS programme director.

"It will be very stealthy and thus highly survivable. It will carry a wide variety of sensors with a large internal weapons payload and be fully networked into the military's emerging joint operational architecture."

The award includes initial funding of $30m.

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