Northrop executive: Navy may incorporate new unmanned system for Growler Block II

By Lee Hudson / December 6, 2017 at 2:47 PM

LINTHICUM, MD -- The Navy may consider using a new unmanned aerial vehicle created through a joint venture between Northrop Grumman and VX Aerospace as part of the EA-18G Growler Block II upgrade, according to a Northrop Grumman executive.

JJ Thompson, naval aviation campaign director at Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, told reporters here the system, known as Dash X, is designed to be an expendable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset.

Dash X has been overseen by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Office of Naval Research and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet program office, he said.

VX Aerospace, using ONR funding and working with North Carolina State University and the University of South Carolina, designed and built two Dash X unmanned aerial systems for flight testing.

The UAS folds into a canister that can be carried by a tactical aircraft. When dropped by an aircrew, it separates from the container and flies off to perform its mission.

The UAS then relays information back to the aircraft. Though Thompson did not predict the precise cost of Dash X, he said the military will be able to treat the systems as disposable.

VX and Northrop concluded the first phase of development with a flight test on Oct. 26 at Foothills Regional Airport in Morganton, NC. The demonstration proved Dash X could work in conjunction with a manned aircraft, collecting and sharing electronic warfare and signal intelligence data inflight, Thompson said.

The demo used a modified Bombardier Dash 8 as the manned aircraft. Northrop installed a sensor suite developed with internal research and development dollars, Thompson said.

Though Dash X can only travel up to 60 knots, Thompson said this speed works to its advantage. The system goes too fast for small arms to shoot it down, but is slow enough to be below the range of tactical aircraft engagement systems.

Thompson said he envisions the Navy using this technology as part of the Growler Block II upgrade because the modernization effort focuses on manned-unmanned teaming.

"I think that long-range teaming is where the highest probability of fielding this is going to go," he said.