UPDATE: Pentagon Delays Navy’s Carrier Drone Program

UPDATE: Pentagon Delays Navy’s Carrier Drone Program

CORRECTION: The Defense Acquisition Board did not meet and decide upon this delay as an earlier version of this article stated. An earlier version also incorrectly stated that Navy officials are considering drafting a new, joint capabilities document for the UCLASS.

The Pentagon has delayed the carrier-launched drone program amid ongoing reviews of the program’s requirements, defense officials told Military​.com.

A planned competition among defense companies has been put on hold as the Pentagon examines plans for the drone and responds to criticism from lawmakers that the initial requirements have been too narrowly configured.

A formal Request For Proposal, or RFP, which had been planned for release by the Navy later this month, has been delayed by a few weeks.

The Navy plans to deliver a carrier-based drone by 2020, called the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike, or UCLASS, system.

Criticism of the requirements has come, in large measure, from analysts, defense officials and lawmakers such as Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of the House’s Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee.

Through the engineering of stealth platforms such as the B-2 bomber, the Air Force has extensive experience designing low-observable or stealth aircraft.

Analysts have questioned whether the platform can adapt over time or whether features like stealth and electronic attack need to be engineered into the original design at from the start.

In particular, low-observable or stealth specifications are needed to help the UCLASS evade increasingly sophisticated enemy air defenses and a broadly scoped payload or weapons delivery capability is needed to maximize its effectiveness for future engagements, lawmakers and Pentagon officials have said.

Furthermore, the UCLASS drone will need to overcome what the Pentagon refers to as anti-access/area-denial, or A2/AD threats, meaning adversaries with increasingly sophisticated long-range missiles and air defenses, among other things.

One source explained if the UCLASS is configured to carry the extra fuel needed for longer-endurance missions, then it will need to be built with a larger vertical signature and therefore have a less-stealthy design. For this reason, advocates for more expansive requirements have favored planning for more aerial refueling of the drone in order to ensure that it is engineered with a stealthy, low-observable design.

While not willing to comment publically on plans for stealth or low-observability for UCLASS, Navy program officials have maintained that the program’s requirements do call for a weaponized strike platform as well as an ISR vehicle.  However, the weapons capability is something that is described as incremental, meaning it will be engineered into the platform over time, Navy officials explained.

Critics however, have questioned whether this is possible and favored building an original design at the beginning of the program with stealth and weaponry factored into the construction and engineering.

Last summer, the Navy awarded four contracts valued at $15 million for preliminary design review for the UCLASS to Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

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The key metric has to be that the UCAV is more expensive and less capable than a manned aircraft. If it’s not then the industry will kill it.

Like the long ranged bomber the path is well known — boost the requirements but front load everything by saying it must have “growth potential” with concurrent development and then form a monopoly to make sure the US is locked in forever.

Lockheed is making billions producing rubbish with this business model it works and it is the future of all American defense procurement.

I’m simply amazed they haven’t recognized your brilliance and made you their CEO…

The UCLASS will almost certainly end up costing more than expected and will probably be several years late. The Navy certainly cannot afford it, considering the limited funds for all its other programs.

Have they looked at other alternatives seriously? For instance a navalized RQ-180 or maybe an extended range F-35?

If the F-35 were to have CFTs and next generation engines, that could well extend its subsonic range by 75% or so. Some F-35As in this configuration could eventually be used for long range strike to replace the strike eagles and complement the LRS-Bs ( and escort them too ).


“Have they looked at alternatives seriously?”

No offense intended, but you certainly haven’t. A *navalized* RQ180?? That would require designing a whole new RQ180. What you and others here failed to consider is that the Navy is building two kinds of combat drones; they just aren’t talking about it much. We already have a naval ISR/strike drone in 2nd iteration with a 7000+nm range: Avenger II.

Extended-range F-35?? Using CFTs?? Kiss stealth goodbye for an extra 400nm radius…bad choice.
Escort bombers with F35s?? Gee, that would require a stealthy tanker for 5–10 refuelings per F35. Lessee, what does a big new stealth airplane cost? Escort fighters…what a quaint idea. Bring back the Mustangs!

Actually, your basic idea of reconsidering the UCLASS mission is a good one. But the basic idea of two kinds of aircraft for 1) ISR/standoff (slower, longer range, less stealthy) strike and 2) deep strike (faster, shorter range, more stealthy) is already the Navy’s *unpublished* plan.

Forgot to mention, the Navy has 3 kinds of large, non-VTOL drones. The 3rd is the MQ4 BAMS, about 8knm range, but ultra-stealthy. The first 2 were carrier-based, which is why I spoke of them separately from the RQ4. And it has a stealthy tanker model, the KQX, but like the RQ4 it’s a light aircraft, not enough fuel for a thirsty airplane like the F35. But good for refueling UCLASS and Avenger IIs (for a 10knm+ range).

WE do not need UCAV Capability.… We do not Need JSF!!!! We need SACTOM to Strike Weapon Extended Range with Air To Ground and Air to Ground Moving Target Strike and Kill Chain Capability. JSF is now 167Million Each time 2600. Stealth is DEAD!!!!! Why we continue to Spend funding on a worthless platforms is amazing. Stealth has been dead since 1998 when we lost the F-117 in Kosovo. Here is a “Light” Bulb moment.… How about we go back and fly “Nap of the Earth” the way we flew in the 1970’s and 1980’s… why are we spending Trillions of dollars when Low Level Approach to a A2D2 IADS is the Best Approach.

I don’t know whether stealthy CFTs could be built for the F-35 or not. Possibly yes. I doubt they would be removable easily however because of stealth considerations. A variable cycle engine would reduce fuel consumption by about 25%, which would translate to an extra range of 35%. Combined with CFTs range would be increased by 75% or so. The F-35’s range could also be increased with air refueling from the F-18s. Total range would be around 650nm*1.75+300nm of refueling=1350nm, that’s a lot! The extra thrust of the engine would compensate for the extra drag and weight.

Moreover, the F-35 NEEDS a variable cycle engine for the future, so the engine is almost a given.

The UCLASS will not be mass produced, so the unit cost including R&D will be very high, contrarily to an F-35.

It least the F-35 is a true fighter bomber, it can penetrate enemy airspace and defend itself like a fighter. The UCLASS can’t fight at all. You’re going to spend 250M+ drone ( including R&D) for something with no self defense capabily whatsoever, I am kind of skeptical.

If the Avenger II has such a good range, it would complement well those long range F-35s for ISR.

Maybe like 25% of the Navy fleet would get the CFTs and 10% of the Air force fleet. Several other customers could also be intersted in those CFTs, like Australia and Canada.

As for sending super expensive bombers deep in enemy airspace with fighters that don’t have the range to go that far, I am not a fan of that idea either. The enemy knows you would try to escort the B-2s/LRS-Bs with short range F-22s, they would just have to intercept the bombers well inside their airspace ( kind of what happened during WWII before the P-51s became available ). A long range fighter like an F-35 would help the bombers survive.

The Navy would like a faster plane than the F-35 but the funds are just not there. Better to improve the F-35 instead at a fraction of the cost.

JSF and UCAV are Useless… Stealth is DEAD, there is no such thing… What we need is a Bigger Stick… Air Launched TACTOM and TLAM with SACTOM to Strike Weapon Extended Range with Air To Ground and Air to Ground Moving Target Strike and Kill Chain Capability.

To compare the UCLASS to the F-35, or any manned fighter/bomber/strike aircraft is not a good comparison. The UCLASS is not a fighter/bomber, it is (will be) a stealth strike aircraft, like the F-117.

The problem with all those modifications is the same things could be done (from the start) on the UCLASS. The X-47B already has range, endurance, and internal payload better than the F-35C. If you are advocating the range of the F-35 be expanded through the use of air-to-air refueling, the UCLASS can do that too. Northrop has already demonstrated autonomous air to air refueling.

As far as costs, the R&D may be higher, but most of the R&D is already done. With the trend for budgets to look at “lifecycle costs” the UCLASS will be less expensive than any F-35 for the simple reason it doesn’t carry a man in it. No life support parts, meaning no life support logistical tail, no life support techs required. You don’t need to fly the thing for training because the training can be done in simulators. These are generally the same advantages for all UAS.

To the argument we wouldn’t send an aircraft unescorted into enemy airspace.…we already have, multiple times. The F-117 went into downtown Baghdad without self-defense (if by those you mean missiles and/or guns). If we *are* running strikes against an adversary that does have a strong IADS with counter-air fighters, we’ll throw cruise missiles in first to disable radars and C4 nodes like we did in Iraq.

The UCLASS will effectively be the next generation F-117, unmanned.

We are already working on the next rounds of cruise missiles, but you still need C4ISR to see how those strikes did, or to re-assign cruise missiles in flight for time sensitive targets (TST). The UCLASS isn’t designed to be a mass force weapon, it is for long range, long endurance, C4ISR with strike capabilities, something we currently don’t have.

The UCLASS could be a nice capability if it is really stealthy, otherwise it will be useless against near-peer enemies.

Concerning potential CFTs for the F-35, eventually they could be made stealthy. For instance Boeing claims that its CFTs for the F-18 reduce the RCS. Apparently, from looking at pictures, the side of the CFTs are canted to be aligned with the vertical tail on the opposite side. This way they can get a sort of plane alignment. With that kind of faceted CFT, the RCS would not be increased from below, but there would be a peak reflection at 25 degrees up to the side of the F-35 ( the angle of the vertical tail). A relatively square CFT doesn’t seem to be that much of a problem. For instance the F-16 CFT is relatively square and increases drag by only 1% in subsonic according to Lockheed.

The cost for making a CFT is not big and usually aircraft manufacturers develop them on their own funds.

NG has experience with the X-47B, but the UCLASS will be a new airframe, there is A LOT of work to do to develop and test the airframe, integrate the sensors, weapons etc… It would take several blocks to get the full capability.

If it is really affordable it would be a good idea, but I think fielding a large numbers of strike fighters is the priority. And the F-18 will not be that good 10 years from now, because of its lack of stealth.

The bombers would attack first with cruise missiles, but the enemy is expecting a missile attack and will prepare for it. These attacks would certainly have an effect but you will probably have to go inside enemy territory to destroy most of the enemy air force, IADS and C4 nodes.

The F-117 and B-2s have never been sent against a neer-peer enemy IADS and have often been escorted.

Remember what happened over Serbia when an F-15 shot down a mig-29 close to a B-2. Had the mig-29 pilot not been busy fighting the F-15, he would have searched for targets and potentially could have shot down the B-2. And these export mig-29 had poor sensors. Now, advanced flankers, PAK-FA and J-20 have buch better sensors and could well detect the bombers.

I am not against UCAVs, but I’d rather invest in multi-role UCAVs, for instance a UCAV variant of the F-35. Or maybe a relatively inexpensive, say 50 Million stealthy UCAV that would have roughly the same performances as an F-35 and would be used in synergy with them, both in air to air and air to ground.

This being said, I understand that the ISR role is an important mission.

What does Doppler have to do with IADS Access Denied Environment A2D2.… This is NOT A-A engagement. What planet are you on???

Because “nap of the earth” stopped working when Doppler radar was developed and provided look-down/shoot-down. Try and keep up.

Did I fall into some kind of parallel universe where the A-12 Avenger II wasn’t cancelled decades ago?

Did I fall into some kind of parallel universe where the A-12 Avenger II wasn’t cancelled decades ago?

MQ4 is not stealthy (seriously, just look at it). KQX was a DARPA science project that never actually got flown. Seriously, what are you talking about?

I guess Skynet will have to wait a while longer…

Main thing is we don’t need drones to replace manned planes and the idiots in the Pentagon are gong that way. They want drones to replace every man in the military. Fact is we need more and better carrier based planes new fleet defender and a new attack plane to replace the Hornets. The JSF is a waste so we need to look at new planes. Drones suck R&D away from this an kill resources we need for man systems this drone craze needs to end.

Industry now presumes to tell the Navy what it should buy.

The Continental Siege Units are coming…buy twenty!


Area 51? Space aliens? Majestic 12?


Planet “he knows what the hell he’s talking about” apparently.

Acronym and buzzword attack!

Dude, it’s an A-A engagement if the bad guy has fighters isn’t it? You don’t always get to pick the rules of the game.

Well, it looks like the usual process of taking a good idea and adding more good ideas until it turns into a bad idea. A cheap, dirty, quick program to get an unmanned long persistence ISR platform on the carrier makes sense. Gives the Navy a chance to figure out how to work with the UAVs on the ship, and fills an actual capability hole. What they are talking about now will cost more than manned aircraft and will be less flexible and less capable. But it will be unmanned!

It sounds like the UCLASS program evolved into something US Navy didn’t need or wasn’t able live up to the hype that the program has generated. I’d wish they had stuck with original objective of the plane. The program been under development for a decade, they still can not stop changing the design around. Is it going to be combination Low observation drone with Strike ability or not?! The design changes is what driving the costs in the first place!

Did you by any chance ghostwrite for the late Doctor Bronner?

I worked on the MQ-4C Triton program for several years. It is NOT stealthy.…much less “ultra-stealthy”. There were absolutely no requirements for stealth characteristics.

UCLASS is suffering from the same errors and pitfalls that every other major weapon system has suffered; ie, ever-changing requirements, interference by beauracrats in DC, industry lobbying.

@Lance, the UAS (aka ‘drones’ as you and the media like to call them) are not a fad nor are they going away just because you choose to want to go back in time before UAS played a vital role in various areas of operations. The Predator, Reapers and Army Gray Eagles are not in development…they passed the major milestones and are now integrated into the services. They serve a specific purpose and the UCLASS platform will also serve a purpose. It’s not a replacement of any other Navy a/c platform, it is a complement to those manned a/c. Learn to live with it.


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