Saab launches manufacturing work on Neuron air vehicle

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By Craig Hoyle

Saab has performed fresh windtunnel tests of the Neuron unmanned combat air vehicle design, as the six-nation programme advances into its manufacturing phase. Intended to support verification activities for the demonstration effort, the work was scheduled to take place in Stockholm, Sweden late last month.

Worth €400 million ($570 million), the Dassault-led Neuron programme was launched at the 2005 Paris air show and went under contract in February 2006. The initiative has the national and industrial involvement of France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Final assembly work is to begin in late 2010.

The project's one reduced-scale demonstrator, which will weigh around 6.3t, is scheduled to make its first flight from France's Istres test centre near Marseilles on 31 March 2012. The debut sortie is expected to comprise autonomous start-up, navigation using pre-planned waypoints and autonomous landing, says Michael Franzén, Saab Aerosystems' programme director, UAV systems.

Neuron UAV

Low observable and weapons deployment trials will then follow at Sweden's Vidsel test range, before flight activities culminate at Italy's Perdasdefogu site with sorties flown using the platform's smart internal weapons bay. Funding for the project will conclude in late 2013.

"When the programme is finished they have a choice: an operational product, continued demonstration, or to go their own way," says Franzén. Saab Aerosystems general manager Pontus Kallén adds: "Our feeling is that the Neuron concept in Europe will be followed by something."

Sweden has a 25% stake in the Neuron effort, with Saab's responsibilities including manufacturing the front and centre fuselage, supplying the air vehicle's core avionics and mission computer and working on its autonomous capabilities. Volvo designed the UCAV's Greek-manufactured engine exhaust, the subject of recent successful tests.

Saab has meanwhile machined the Neuron air vehicle's Frame 14 - its largest aluminium structure -and is to start fuselage assembly work in June. The company now has around 100 engineers and production personnel assigned to the project, from a European total of almost 1,000.

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