The Pentagon’s top military panel in charge of weapon system
requirements has expressed interest in a notional design for a loitering
unmanned airplane that would search and destroy enemy anti-aircraft
The vice chiefs of staff from each service sit on the so-called
Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC). It appears that the
panel showed interest in the potential applications of a proposed
concept called Loitering Electronic Warfare Killer (LEWK).
LEWK transforms from a general-purpose bomb into an aerobatic air
vehicle by using inflatable airfoils, and is commanded through data
links and on-board sensors.
The idea of developing LEWK came about after the 1999 air war over
Kosovo, where NATO air strikes often were hampered by the presence
of Serbian surface-to-air missile sites.
LEWK is funded under the Pentagon’s advanced concept technology
demonstration program, designed to expedite the development of militarily-useful
technologies. The system currently is “very conceptual,”
but JROC nevertheless expressed “strong interest,” said
Marty Meyer, director of advanced programs at the Marine Corps Systems
Command. The U.S. Air Force would be the intended customer for LEWK,
said Meyer during a briefing to the Precision Strike Association.
The U.S. European Command will develop the concept for how LEWK
would operate in combat.
The system would rely on current technologies, rather than inventing
new ones, Meyer said. The goal is to “integrate them smartly.”
To keep the cost down, he added, LEWK only would provide an “80-85
percent solution” to fulfill the so-called SEAD mission, or
suppression of enemy air defenses. Meyer did not want to disclose
a price tag for LEWK, but a Pentagon news release last year said
the system is expected to run about $40,000 per copy.
The plan is for LEWK to be either an expendable or a recoverable
truck, depending on the mission needs. It would be launched as a
slick-shaped bomb that would unfold into a GPS-guided small turboprop-powered
aircraft. Meyer said the vehicle should be about 10 feet long, 1
foot in diameter and weigh less than 1,000 pounds.
LEWK would fly up to eight-hour missions, at a speed of 70-150
knots, covering up to 1,000 miles. Meyer cautioned that LEWK is
not viewed as a substitute for much more sophisticated Air Force
unmanned aircraft, such as the Global Hawk or Predator. LEWK can
carry 200 pounds in the belly. It will have TV cameras and weapons
on board, as well as a radar-jamming device, electro-optic and infrared
The system could be launched from a helicopter and would use a
parachute to land after it’s completed its mission.
The “big message” about this program, said Meyer, is
that “nothing is proprietary.” The technologies exist
today, they just need to be integrated.
Even though the Air Force is the lead service in this program,
the Army, Navy and Marine Corps also participate, said Meyer. The
European Command will determine by 2005 whether LEWK should be produced
The current program has enough funding to build up to 12 units.
The contractor is Advanced Technologies Inc., in Newport News, Va.