The U.S. Navy's UCLASS program will develop a long duration, carrier-based UAS originally capable of operations by 2018 (now slipped to 2020). The program is aligned under Program Executive Officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons (PEO(U&W)). Currently four aircraft are expected to compete in this program.
The Navy was expected to publish its final program requirements in the fall of 2012. In December though, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) representatives announced a delay in the request for proposal to early 2013.
Then on 14 August 2013, NAVAIR award four firm-fixed-price contracts in the amount of $15 million each conduct a preliminary design review to Boeing in St. Louis, Missouri; Northrop Grumman in El Segundo, California; General Atomics Aeronautical systems in Poway, California; and to Lockheed Martin in Palmdale, California.
A draft RFP was to be issued in September 2013 which will lead to an eventual down-select to one company, but it was delayed due to debates over the aircraft's signature, payload, and range requirements.
The classified RFP was finally released to the four prime contractors below on 17 April 2014. A final RFP is expected during the summer of 2014.
See likely UCLASS contender comparison below (current as of 10 JUL 13)
HASC Leader Continues to Press SECNAV on UCLASS Requirements
18 February 2014 - Congressman Randy Forbes, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, penned another letter to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus concerning the forthcoming UCLASS Draft Request for Proposal.
In the letter, Forbes urged the SECNAV that "aerial refueling is essential for providing UCLASS, and thus the CVW [carrier air wing], with enduring utility in the power projection mission area." This capability is needed, Forbes argues, to achieve global response to short-warning aggression regardless of a carrier's position. Moreover, the Congressman says that in-flight refueling will allow UCLASS to provide intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and strike operations outside an adversary's long range threat envelope.
GAO Report Raises Caution on UCLASS
26 September 2013 - The General Accounting Office issued a report today calling for greater congressional oversight of the UCLASS program. The report cautions that the Navy's pursuit of the programs is outside the normal framework for Congressional accountability for cost, schedule, and performance metrics.
GAO specifically calls the Navy for failing to hold a Milestone B review until after the UCLASS has been developed and fielded in 2020. The report also cites the risk that the $3.7 billion estimated for 6-24 aircraft exceeds the level of funding that the Navy expects to budget for the system through fiscal year 2020. GAO also mentions technical and design concerns related to fielding time and integration.
Read the full report here.
House Armed Services Committee Leaders Letter to SECNAV on UCLASS
September 17, 2013
The Honorable Ray Mabus
Secretary of the Navy
2000 Navy Pentagon
Washington, DC 20350
Dear Secretary Mabus:
We are writing to express our appreciation for your strong support for future unmanned aircraft capabilities that will one day be an integral part of the Carrier Air Wing (CVW). We have followed the technology development of this concept with great interest as it has matured over the last decade responding to the need to increase the range, persistence, and lethality of the CVW, especially in antiaccess/area-denial environments. Specifically, we share your view that platforms like the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike system (UCLASS) "will radically change the way presence and combat power is delivered from aircraft carriers."
However, we request that you remain vigilant and monitor the path of this program closely because we believe the current path could limit the capability growth of the system in the future. We believe UCLASS should be designed to be an integral part of the CVW that can employ in the full spectrum of the Navy's power-projection mission. For this reason, we encourage you to draft a technology development request for proposal (RFP) that does not focus on just one particular key performance parameter, but enables competition and capability tradeoffs on a spectrum of attributes such as range, payload, survivability and affordability. This approach will allow industry to offer a variety of options for UCLASS that meet threshold requirements for the smaller and lesser contingencies, but will also preserve the ability for industry to offer an affordable capability growth path to meet objective requirements that are more favored in high-end, complex contingency operations. In short, we believe it is too early in the development process to limit the potential of this capability and we encourage you to closely monitor its progress. We would also request that after you have approved the final draft version of the technology development RFP, and before it goes to the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics for review, that you provide the committee a briefing on the construction, content, and evaluation criteria contained within the RFP.
We also encourage you to closely examine the unconventional acquisition strategy proposed for the UCLASS program. While we strongly support fielding this capability to the Navy, we have concerns about the Navy's proposal to field up to four CVWs of capability for operational employment before achieving normal milestone B approval or conducting full-system operational testing and evaluation. Specifically, we have significant concerns about the technology development strategy to acquire a large number of air vehicles using research and development funding, which we feel does not follow the letter or spirit of recent acquisition reform efforts mandated by Congress.
While we know there will be further bureaucratic and budgetary hurdles to overcome as we work to advance this important capability, we are committed to working with you to ensure we procure a capability that will be integral to the CVW while remaining relevant and capable well into the future years. Thank you for your service and we look forward to our continued dialogue on this important topic.
J Randy Forbes
Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces
Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces
Lockheed Martin Demonstrates UAS Common Control Systems
02 July 2013 – During a recent demonstration at NAVAIR, Lockheed Martin monitored and controlled multiple types of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) from one integrated command and control (C2) system. Controlling both the unmanned air vehicles and their on-board mission system sensors, Lockheed Martin’s system fully integrated with other Navy C2 and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) planning and execution systems to provide operators with one comprehensive mission picture. The demonstration was executed in support of the Navy’s upcoming Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System (UCLASS) and Common Control System programs.
“This demonstration is an important step to fulfilling the Navy’s requirement for a Common Control System that leverages multiple architectures from varied operational systems,” said Rob Weiss, executive vice president of Advanced Strike and Intelligence and Reconnaissance Systems for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. “A combined C2 and ISR capability will be essential as the Navy integrates UAS, beginning with UCLASS, into its ISR enterprise. We believe in their vision and this demonstration is an example of our work to reduce risk and make the Common Control System a reality.”
During the demonstration, the Lockheed Martin team integrated C2 and ISR systems to provide mission planning, sensor and common operational control for multiple UAS platforms, including Lockheed Martin’s UCLASS concept. Using an open architecture framework integrated with DreamHammer’s Ballista drone control software and Navy compliant software protocols, a single operator managed multiple UAS platforms simultaneously. The team also used the new Navy Cloud capability to demonstrate control of the ISR sensors and fully integrate the data into one complete mission picture. The team then used this picture to rapidly re-task and re-route the UAS assets. In addition to using DreamHammer’s Ballista drone control software in this UCLASS demonstration, Lockheed Martin is teamed with DreamHammer Government Solutions in pursuit of the upcoming Navy Common Control System contract.
“This demonstration underscores the critical role that common command and control systems can play in actual operations by highlighting the ability to enrich the overall ISR picture and increase the speed of decision making,” said Jim Quinn, vice president of C4ISR Systems for Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions. “An integrated battlespace picture emerges when we link the platforms, sensors, and information collected into one enterprise view that will enable the U.S. Navy to better achieve their C2 and ISR missions.”
Lockheed Martin is partnered with the Navy on a variety of programs, including the F-35C, Distributed Information Operations-System and Tactical Tomahawk Weapons Control System. These systems support the convergence of C2 and ISR capabilities, which can increase tactical warfighting ability, reduce footprint and deliver affordable capability in an agile delivery framework.
X-47B First Flight - The Navy made Pax River history July 29 after it conducted the naval air station's historic first flight of the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator. (U.S Navy video/ Released)
Northrop Grumman X-47B Concept of Operations Video