Neuron, the European full-scale technological demonstrator for UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle) developed by a team led by Dassault Aviation with the collaboration of Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi, Saab, Airbus Defence and Space, RUAG, and HAI, has completed its first test campaign in Italy.
The aircraft is deployed at the Italian Air Force's Decimomannu Air Base in Sardinia, and the series of operational tests were an important step forward in the maturation of the demonstration program. In particular, the 12 "highly sensitive sorties" allowed engineers to verify the characteristics of Neuron’s combat capability, its low radar-cross section, and low IR signature during missions flown at different altitudes and flight profiles and against both ground-based and air radar “threats,” using in this latter case, an Eurofighter Typhoon.
From the industrial point of view, Dassault Aviation has the overall responsibility for the Neuron program and is responsible for the vehicle's design and architecture, flight control system, systems integration, final assembly, and static and flight tests.
Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi is a first-level industrial partner, holding 22% of the program. Its contribution to the program includes design and production of the generation and electrical distribution system; the air data system (with stealth characteristics); low-observability components and the Smart Integrated Weapon Bay. This latter system allows for the automatic detection and recognition of the target in stealth mode and enables the sending of an attack’s approval request to the ground station commander before the launching of weapons.
Also starting this summer, the next testing phase will be run in Sweden, at the Vidsel Air Base, where tests of low observability and use of weapon delivery from the aircraft’s weapon bay will be carried out. The Neuron has been designed to carry two 500-lb guided bombs.
The very first flight of the UCAV was in December 2012 in France. In February of this year, it completed its 100th flight, thus bringing to an end its French test campaign. Those tests were in two phases. The intent of the first phase was to open the flight envelop (including with weapon bay doors open), to test the electro-optical sensor, and to evaluate datalink performance. The second phase was dedicated to IR and electromagnetic signature/detection confrontations against operational systems.