It’s a platform that is certain to revolutionize Navy aviation: an unmanned aircraft, loaded with sensors and weapons, operating alongside manned aircraft
on a carrier deck. But as the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS)
program gets ever closer to what will be a hard-fought
competition between the biggest names in the industry
for the rights to build it, the Navy still has a lot of work
to do to define what role it will fill in the fleet, and leadership will need to make some hard decisions soon.
The program currently is focused on a comprehensive
review of the UCLASS air system requirements and the
program funding profile, which will be part of the strategic
portfolio review (SPR) as directed by the fiscal 2016 budget submission. After that wraps up, the UCLASS acquisition strategy and request-for-proposals release timeline
will be updated, with an expected contract award in early
2017 and early operational capability in 2022 or 2023.
However, as work on the UCLASS program gets
under way, debate is ramping up in Congress about
how the platform should be used — and even whether
it should be built at all.
The Navy asked for $134.7 million in this year’s
budget for continued UCLASS development, building
on the X-47B carrier-launched
demonstrator — known as UCAS-D
— program that has been going on
for the past few years. Congress,
meanwhile, has expressed concern
about the program.
Authorizers slashed the Navy’s
request for $403 million last year
During hearings last summer, lawmakers expressed
concern the Navy was building a platform that was capable of many things — strike missions and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), primarily — but was not very good at any of them. For example, one lawmaker said there was a “disproportionate
emphasis” on endurance that would result in designing an aircraft that would not be survivable enough or
have the payload capacity it needs.
Asked to address these concerns, CAPT Beau Duarte,
head of the UCAS and UCLASS program for the Navy,
said in written responses to Seapower the service is
focused on making sure the role is clearly defined and is
working toward that end. The intent with regard to
UCLASS is to “deliver an affordable, unmanned, carrier-
based system with intelligence, surveillance, reconnais-
sance, targeting and strike capability to support our na-
The SPR will “further examine the role of UCLASS in
the carrier air wing of the future, leveraging previous
Work in Progress
As UCLASS development gets set to begin, the Navy
faces several decisions on how the platform will be used
By DANIEL P. TAYLOR, Special Correspondent
Defining Its Role
The Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance
and Strike (UCLASS) program currently is undergoing a comprehensive review of air system requirements.
; Technology demonstrations using the X-47B carrier-launched
demonstrator program are informing the UCLASS effort.
; The X-47B has demonstrated operations on a carrier deck and
this spring will be used to test autonomous aerial refueling.
; Meanwhile, debate is ramping up in Congress about how the
platform should be used, and whether it should be built at all.