Drone of All Trades
Navy pushes for the multipurpose UCLASS system
to start flying off aircraft carrier decks by 2018
By DANIEL P. TAYLOR, Special Correspondent
how to integrate an unmanned aircraft on a busy carrier deck. UCAS
will make its first landing on a carrier in 2013, and UCLASS will take
many of the lessons learned from
the program and apply it to the
“The ongoing UCAS-D is an essential early step that will demonstrate the suitability of unmanned
air systems operating in the [carri-er] environment,” Nava said.
“Government-owned launch, recovery and associated aviation ship
interfaces, hardware and software
products, and CONOPS from
The broad agency announcement contracts will take
about nine months, and the results of the effort will be
essential for the Navy to meet its goal of fielding the
aircraft by 2018, he said. The awards were worth about
$500,000 each and cover preliminary studies to assist
the Navy as it refines the analysis of alternatives and
CONOPS. The Navy plans to spend about $2.5 billion
over the next five years on UCLASS.
The Navy will award technology development contracts beginning next year to design the air vehicle,
with test and evaluation beginning in fiscal 2015.
Even with lessons learned from UCAS-D, developing a platform like UCLASS is no walk in the park.
“Designing a multipurpose aircraft is always more
challenging than designing a single-purpose vehicle, or
‘point design,’” Nava said. “The real design challenge for
UCLASS lies in the combination of persistent ISR with
carrier suitability. UCLASS will have design features that
are not typical of our carrier-based aircraft, including
high-aspect-ratio wings with sufficient area, large fuel
loads and very efficient high-bypass-ratio engines.”
The government is trying to identify “innovative tech-
nologies” to help deal with those challenges, he added.
The Unmanned Combat Air System-Demonstration (UCAS-D) program will aid in the development of the Unmanned Carrier-Launched
Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) drone.
■ UCAS-D will make its first landing on a carrier in 2013.
■ Launch and recovery data, associated aviation ship interfaces,
hardware and software products, and a concept of operations
from UCAS-D will be provided to the UCLASS program.
■ The Navy plans to spend about $2.5 billion over the next five
years on UCLASS.
Seven years from now, the Navy envisions hav- ing a tailless aircraft capable of not only per- forming strike missions, but conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) work,
all in a way no fighter aircraft before it has done —
without anybody in the cockpit.
The Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) drone is just a concept right
now, but work has begun in earnest to turn that concept
into a reality. In June, the Navy awarded four broad
agency announcement contracts to Boeing, Northrop
Grumman, Lockheed Martin and General Atomics to
support UCLASS pre-Milestone A activities, including an
analysis of alternatives and the development of a formal
concept of operations (CONOPS), said Charlie Nava,
UCLASS program manager. If all goes well, the drone will
be operating with F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and the F- 35
Lightning II aircraft on carrier decks by 2018.
UCLASS will have a leg-up in development thanks
to the work of another program. The Unmanned
Combat Air System-Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft
— which uses a Northrop Grumman-built X-47B
drone — will tackle some of the hardest technical challenges for an unmanned carrier-based aircraft, such as