A few weeks ago, I reported that the requirements for the US Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft are not matching up with what the service’s leaders had originally envisioned when the program was first launched a few years back. Instead of a long-range carrier-based unmanned stealth bomber, the current vision calls for an aircraft that more or less resembles a semi-stealthy jet-powered Predator.
Those original requirements were significantly altered on December 18 last year by the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC), which is led by Adm James “Sandy” Winnefeld. Instead of a sprint to strike bomber, Winnefeld pressed for an aircraft that emphasizes orbits in lightly contested airspace. The question was why?
Ostensibly, the answer was cost. But the real reason was explained to me off-the-record on the condition that I not publish it. But now that Sam has run his story, the point is now moot.
Sam’s story sheds light on exactly why the JROC effectively neutered the UCLASS program with on-the-record comments from former undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work, now the CEO of the Center for New American Security, and former chief of naval operations Adm Gary Roughead.
So the reason: terrorists. The JROC wanted the ability to hunt terrorists in permissive environments without being beholden to a host-nation for basing access. Sources insist that the White House played a role in the JROC decision, but the Pentagon denies it.
It’s certainly an interesting choice given the administration’s much vaunted Pacific pivot… so we’ll see how this plays out.
We’ll keep investigating… but as I mentioned before, Sam’s piece is definitely worth reading in full.