The US Navy is delaying its Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft program. The draft request for proposals has been delayed until the first couple of months of 2013, possibly due to the program’s requirements being held up at the Joint Requirements Oversight Council.
But the Navy still wants the aircraft on the carrier flight deck by 2020. It probably won’t be operational in the traditional sense, but a senior Navy official told me earlier in the year that the goal is to have six of the aircraft train onboard a carrier with the ship’s air wing by then. However, the UCLASS wouldn’t be deploying with the ship on its cruise.
For industry, this program is a pretty big deal since it’s the only large new start developmental program on the horizon for the time being. All of the major contractors are hoping to secure this project. The incumbent is Northrop Grumman with its X-47B Unmanned Combat Aircraft System Demonstrator–the design of which will be modified into an actual combat aircraft and not just a demonstrator. But earlier in the year, Naval Air Systems Command said that it would make the government-owned technology from the program available to all of the UCLASS contenders.
Other contenders are Lockheed Martin’s Sea Ghost. A new Boeing design that draws lessons from the X-45C Phantom Ray, but it might not be a flying wing. And General Atomics’ Sea Avenger–based on the Predator-C.
This video is a few months old, but it’s still pretty cool. It shows some interesting concepts that industry has been exploring with swarming techniques and airborne networks. Also of note is the High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS), which is a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program that is current scheduled to be tested next year at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.