December 10, 2012
Credit: Credit: Dassault
Amy Svitak London and Bill Sweetman Washington
Europe's Neuron unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) is as much a political marvel as a technological one.
Led by the French defense armaments agency DGA and prime contractor Dassault Aviation, the technology testbed aims to demonstrate both the airworthiness of a stealthy combat air vehicle and the ability to develop, build and flight-test the UCAV with a relatively limited €405 million ($500 million) budget across six European countries with multiple industrial partners.
Initiated in 2003, Neuron is 50% financed by France, with participation from Italy, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland and Greece. In addition to technology development, the UCAV aims to demonstrate a leaner decision-making process that eliminates the procurement complexities that have plagued other international collaborations, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon. For Neuron, Dassault coordinates industrial interests and interacts with DGA, which is responsible for coordinating the governments' collective position.
Neuron completed its maiden flight Dec. 1 from the Istres test center in southern France, marking the first flight of a European UCAV and the first demonstration of European stealth technology, paving the way for upcoming flight testing in Italy and Sweden.
Designed to attack relocatable targets, such as “double-digit” air defense systems and mobile ballistic missiles Neuron can autonomously transmit imagery to an operator on the ground who can then clear the vehicle to return and strike.
During the 25-min. flight, Neuron climbed as high as 7,000 ft. and reached a top speed of 200 kt. The landing gear remained down for the flight, during which Neuron was tailed by a twin-seat Rafale fighter for safety.
Powered by a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour engine, the 10-meter-long (33-ft.) Neuron has a wingspan of 12.5 meters and a dry mass of 5,000 kg (11,000 lb.). It is designed to operate for up to 3 hr. at a maximum altitude of 10,000 ft., achieving speeds up to Mach 0.8.