Some, including Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., think
that could be a mistake.
At a March hearing before the Senate Armed Ser-
vices Committee, Wicker asked leadership to explain
“why the Navy does not plan to support the continua-
tion of the Navy Unmanned Combat Air System
Demonstration program in the interim,” a program
that “could reduce risk in technology development for
follow-on programs, such as UCLASS.”
VADM Paul Grosklags, principal military deputy
assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, De-
velopment and Acquisitions, countered that UCAS-D
was merely a demonstrator aircraft and not a prototype
for future UCLASS aircraft.
Wicker, however, continued to question whether
the X- 47 should be abandoned with 85 percent of its
life still left.
For Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chair of the House
Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, the UCLASS program is so important for the
Navy and such a big question mark that he scheduled a
hearing entirely dedicated to the program in July 2014.
Forbes told Seapower that he is encouraged by the
Navy’s push to make sure it is getting the requirements
right, something he said he has been urging leadership
to do for a while.
“I think the good news is now we’re seeing the
wording from the Pentagon somewhat matching up
with wording we have been saying for years,” Forbes
said. “What we have been pushing to have done, and
have had a degree of success in, is to make sure the
Navy measures twice and cuts once.”
He pointed to the recent comments of Navy acquisi-
tion executive Sean Stackley, who noted that the UCLASS
would not be operational for five to 10 years and will fly
for another 25 years after that, “so I think it’s more impor-
tant that we be right on those requirements than be 12
months early on the wrong requirements,” Forbes said.
He said the UCLASS’ capabilities can be adjusted with
mission modules, but one thing that cannot be changed
down the road is the size and shape of the aircraft.
“You can’t upgrade the basic shape and size of an air-
craft, and I think [with the Long Range Strike Bomber]
the Air Force has done a good job recognizing the basic
requirements we’re going to need. … I think it’s vitally
important the Navy is coming around to that.”
Going forward, Forbes said his chief concern is that
the Navy keep its eye on the ball and not rush forward
too fast with the wrong set of requirements.
In terms of the specific requirements the UCLASS
should have, Forbes said there are three major capabilities
that should be focused on: a stealth capability because future environments are likely to be non-permissive, a deep
penetration capability and a sufficient payload capacity.
Most every other capability can be adjusted with mission
modules as long as those three basics are met, he argued.
As far as the X- 47, Forbes said it would be a good
idea for the Navy to weigh all of its options.
“I think the Navy wants to probably continue to
make sure it looks at all the capabilities it has,” he said.
“Because we’re going to be looking at a holistic approach where it’s not just going to be one platform, and
we want to make sure we’re getting our hands around
the ones that best meet that need.” ■
WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG SEAPOWER / OCTOBER 2015
The Navy’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System-Demonstrator (UCAS-D) receives fuel from an Omega K-707 tanker
while operating in the Atlantic Test Ranges over the Chesapeake Bay April 22. The test marked the first time an
unmanned aircraft refueled in flight. Some lawmakers are questioning the wisdom of the Navy’s decision to abandon the
UCAS-D program now that it has fulfilled its testing aboard a ship.