DRS Technologies' unique Neptune unmanned air vehicle, designed to be launched from a small boat and recovered by a parachute splash-down, has been ordered into low-rate initial production for Navy special operations teams and - in the process - has been designated RQ-15A. Which leads to the immediate question: since AeroVironment's RQ-11A Raven is the most recent designation in the Q series, where have 12, 13 and 14 gone? Andreas Parsch, founder of www.designation-systems.net and unrivaled expert in these matters, says that there is "no releasable data" on Q-14 - which may indicate a sensitive or classified program or a designation still grinding through the bureaucracy. Q-13 has been skipped due to the Pentagon's normal triskaidekaphobia (there's no F-13 either).
Q-12 has apparently been caught up in the Army/USAF spat over UAVs. The Army wanted MQ-12A for its new General Atomics Sky Warrior UAV, and even used it in a couple of official publications, but has so far been told that the Sky Warrior is to be MQ-1C - in the same series as the USAF's Predator. This suits the USAF, which cites the Sky Warrior's similarity to the Predator as a reason to merge the two forces under USAF command. The snag is that Sky Warrior is less like Predator than meets the eye. The initial version is 30 per cent heavier than the Predator and the Army plans to increase the weight again, to 50 per cent more than the earlier UAV - eventually, it could carry as many as eight missiles. It has a completely different and more powerful engine, the redundant flight control system from the MQ-9A Reaper, carries a radar (which Predator no longer does) and uses a different ground control system. It's that growth in capability that has triggered the USAF's historical resistance to anything that looks, walks or quacks like an Army-operated fixed-wing combat aircraft. Result: the MQ-12A designation is on hold until the issue is sorted out.