By Andrew Tilghman - Staff writer Air Force Times
Posted : Saturday Aug 29, 2009 15:51:14 EDT
An aircraft carrier version of the Air Force’s Predator? It’s not so far-fetched.
The maker of the medium-range unmanned aerial vehicle wants to make a version, the Predator C, that launches from and lands on a ship. General Atomics and the Navy have discussed the proposal, said Tom Cassidy, president of the company’s aircraft systems group.
To modify the Predator for carrier operations, Cassidy said, engineers would have to reinforce the frame to handle the stress of carrier launches and landings, as well as add folding wings, a tailhook and a towing mechanism on the nose.
The Predator C, or the Avenger, would join the Predator and the armed Predator B, or the Reaper.
Cassidy said the company is hoping to sell the Predator to the Navy to supplement two programs.
A carrier-based predator equipped with advanced sensors could be an alternative to the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance aircraft, the large unmanned patrol aircraft slated to join the fleet in 2015, Cassidy said.
An armed Avenger could provide capabilities similar to a strike fighter or the Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System, known as the UCAS, the stealthy fighter jet in the early phases of development, Cassidy said.
“A high-end, low-end mix,” Cassidy said. “You don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
The Predators are significantly lighter and less costly than BAMS or UCAS.
A Navy spokeswoman acknowledged the search for an additional UAV but declined to discuss specific options under consideration.
General Atomics says the Predator C drone could complement Navy missions on several fronts, including:
* Strike fighters
* Maritime patrol
* Electronic attack
* Intelligence gathering