An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System-Demonstrator (UCAS-D) launches from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.,
for a 35-minute flight over the Chesapeake Bay July 29. The Navy plans to conduct launch and recovery tests of a
UCAS-D aircraft aboard an aircraft carrier next year.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced earlier this year
that the service had begun pre-Milestone A activities for
the F/A-XX concept.
Rather than being a single aircraft, however, the
Navy is leaning toward a family of systems to fill the
F/A-XX role. Mabus told the House Appropriations
defense subcommittee in March that options include
additional F- 35 Lightning II joint strike fighters, the
UCLASS or a new manned/unmanned platform, or a
combination of those options.
Mabus acknowledged in his written testimony that
there had been some challenges with the program.
“While we remain committed to the first-generation
UCLASS, which will provide a low-observable, long-
range, unmanned ISR [intelligence, surveillance and
reconnaissance] strike capability that will enhance the car-
rier’s future ability to project power in anticipated A2/AD
[anti-access/area-denial] threat environments,” he wrote,
“the target date for limited operational capability has shift-
ed by two years from 2018 to 2020 to reduce schedule and
technical risk, as well as to meet the savings targets man-
dated by the BCA [Budget Control Act of 2011].”
A successful UCAS effort could go a long way to mak-
ing sure UCLASS stays on track, and Northrop Grumman
is making its own preparations for the critical upcoming
milestones. The company is working on software right
now in advance of the carrier landing next year.
“We’ve got the next drop of software for the airplane,”
said Tighe Parmenter, Northrop’s business development
manager for UCAS. “It’s going through its final approvals.
We finished testing in the lab … and now the Navy, very
carefully, as you can imagine, is going through all the ones
and zeros to make sure they are happy with it.”
Northrop was responsible for designing the
mechanical arm-like control for the aircraft, which is
called the Control Display Unit.