Once the draft RFP does drop later this year, there
will be plenty of competition for what ultimately will
be a huge contract award. Boeing, Lockheed Martin,
General Atomics and Northrop Grumman are all working hard on their own offerings for the lucrative bid.
Boeing is offering its X- 45 Joint Unmanned Combat
“Boeing has more than 90 years of naval aviation
experience including delivering carrier-based aircraft
to the U.S. Navy,” Boeing spokeswoman Deborah
VanNierop said in an e-mail response to Seapower.
“Additionally, Boeing’s capabilities-based approach and
rapid prototyping allows us to create a low-cost, low-
risk solution for our customer. We look forward to
working with the U.S. Navy to provide an affordable
Northrop, meanwhile, is building the X- 47, which
was used in the Navy’s demonstrator program.
“The X-47B remains in standby status at Patuxent
River, Md.,” said Northrop spokesman T.J. Ortega in an
e-mail. “The Navy was allocated $250 million in fiscal
2016 for UCLASS risk-reduction activities and will
evaluate what surrogate aircraft activities, including
further X-47B operations, are cost effective to meet
these risk-reduction goals.”
Lockheed Martin is leveraging technologies from
some of its current platforms,
Sentinel unmanned aerial vehicle,
in its offering: the Sea Ghost.
General Atomics is pushing the
Sea Avenger, a modified version of
its Predator series of unmanned aircraft. Doug Hardison, who is head of
strategic development of Navy programs at the company, said the shift
in the Stingray’s role was not a big
deal for the company.
“We think our platform is well-positioned to support this effort,”
Hardison said. “We were always
building to an air refueling capability. We think we’re in a good position to support the Navy for this.
“The tanker requirement itself is
kind of a known to support the
strike fighter shortfall, so we kind
of saw that as logical for a requirement to transition to this,” he
added. “We think we can move out
very quickly to support the refueling shortfall off carriers that’s been
known about for a long time.
What’s happening is they’re bringing up [F/A- 18]
Hornet flight time to do refueling, and it’s really be-
coming a big issue.”
It will not require any fundamental change in the
design that General Atomics currently is working with,
“The Navy is asking all vendors for CBARS, ‘What
do you have to do to support the air refueling capabil-
ity?’” he said. “The specifications are different for what
UCLASS was, but we’re in a position where we’re not
shifting the aircraft design.”
As a result, General Atomics does not have plans to
make any modifications to the aircraft. Hardison said it
already was designed to have a large payload, so what
is done with that payload is not a big issue.
“Whether you’re dropping a lot of bombs or carrying a lot of fuel, it’s a payload issue,” he said.
This will be an important year for the program and the
competitors as the Navy nears the release of a draft RFP
to get the ball rolling on developing this capability.
“The Navy just delivered this CBARS requirement
— their initial thrust of requirements,” Hardison said.
“We’re examining those requirements. We’re still a
ways out from a draft RFP or an RFP. That gives us
time to do some work with the Navy to make sure we
get the requirements right.” ;
The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration aircraft prepares to
engage with an Omega K-707 tanker drogue and complete the first
autonomous aerial refueling demonstration over the Chesapeake Bay on April
22, 2015. Lessons learned from the demonstration program will be used to
inform the concept of operations and technical designs for the newly redesignated and redefined MQ-XX Stingray program.