They are there if it is hot, dusty and dangerous – like in Afghanistan, Iraq or southern California. An interesting report from not quite two years ago put an unusual, stealthy (no vertical stabilizer and flying wing layout), turbojet-powered UAV being rolled into a UAV facility at Kandahar, Afghanistan.
There was not a lot of comment at the time, but now a couple of UAV experts with insight into U.S. programs unofficially confirmed the aircraft’s existence, but not much else.
“It was there [in Kandahar] in the fall of 2007,” said one specialist, a former fighter pilot. “I don’t know who produced it or owns it or what it does.” Informed speculation linked the Polecat-like design to Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works (Palmdale, Calif.) and not to General Atomics (San Diego, Calif.) which is known to have a facility in Kandahar.
However, General Atomics now has its own Predator C turbojet stealth design and is involved in identifying potential customers. Britain, for example, is working on its Dabinett intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance program which is looking at both the General Atomics’ Reaper (turboprop-powered) and BAE Systems’ Mantis as a possible, non-stealthy UAV component. But both U.K. and U.S. defense planners have interest in a stealthy follow-on, particularly if it is a relatively cheap, stealthy UAV.
“There’s a lot going on with the UK right now”, a second, Washington-based U.S. official says. “The Predator C will be used by U.S. forces and most likely be offered to our close allies as well.”
With reporting by Douglas Barrie in London.