During the 2019 edition of its Trade Media Briefing on November 5, 2019, Airbus Defense and Space unveiled the existence of its “Low Observable UAV Testbed”, or LOUT.
The LOUT is a four-ton diamond-shaped aircraft of 12×12 meters, which makes it slightly bigger than the nEUROn, another European stealth drone developed by Dassault Aviation. The testbed features an internal weapon bay, diverterless low-RCS engine inlets, and an integrated thrust-vectoring flat exhaust nozzle to reduce the risk of detection from ground sensors.
According to Airbus, the program took a “holistic approach” of stealth, simultaneously focusing on three aspects: reducing radar, IR, visual and acoustic signature, controlling electromagnetic emission of sensors and using electronic countermeasures for jamming and deception.
Initial studies by Airbus started in 2007. In 2010, the manufacturer received a contract by the German Ministry of Defense for a very low observable (VLO) ground testbed to experiment on reducing radar, infrared and sound emissions. Airbus defined its development at the two sites of Manching and Bremen as a “Skunk Works approach”, after the name of Lockheed Martin design bureau responsible, among others, for the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117 Nighthawk, both developed in secrecy.
The LOUT has served to test stealth technologies that could later be used on the Next Generation Fighter, part of the Future Air Combat System (FCAS) program conjointly developed by Airbus and Dassault. The technologies developed using the LOUT may be used by Airbus to gain leverage in the program, whose direction was awarded to Dassault.
The two manufacturers are still waiting for the green light from the French, German and Spanish governments to start developing their demonstrators.
While Airbus did not specify if it would fly one day, the LOUT could also serve as a basis for the development of an Airbus stealth combat drone in the future, much like its Dassault counterpart, the nEUROn, whose maiden flight took place in December 2012. The stealth abilities of the UCAV in flight were tested at the beginning of 2019.