Thursday, August 24, 2006
Lockheed has revealed that they have been studying unmanned derivatives of the F-35 Lightning II in yet another in a steady stream of news releases as it mounts a PR campaign to establish itself in the unmanned systems market. Concepts studied by Lockheed's Skunk Works include both optionally piloted and dedicated unmanned versions.
Frank Mauro, deputy director unmanned aeronautical systems has stated that there have been behind the scenes discussion on unmaned versions of the F-35 for 2-3 years. Both an optionally piloted and dedicated unmanned Lightning II have been thoroughly conceptualized and designed, but getting the 3 manned versions of the F-35 flying before pursuing the idea any further.
It has been discussed that a fuel tank could replace the cockpit thus extending range, however the cost of the propulsion, avionics and most of the sensor systems should not change from a manned to an unmanned system according to Mr Mauro.
Operationally Lockheed has developed a swarming concept in which four unmanned Lightning II's would be controlled by two manned F-35's, or F-22's, sharing sensor information via an airborne datalink.
This would allow the sensors to be removed from the unmanned F-35s, which would be used as weapon carriers, reducing cost to about 72% that of the manned aircraft 30-35% of the cost is in the sensors.