The Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat air system
demonstrator (UCAS-D) made its first touch and go onboard the aircraft carrier
USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) on 17 May.
"This landing, rubber hitting deck, is extremely fulfilling
for the team and is the culmination of years of relative navigation
development," says Don Blottenberger, UCAS-D Deputy Program manager. "Now, we
are set to demonstrate the final pieces of the demonstration."
The Navy says the UCAS-D program plans to conduct
shore-based arrested landings of the X-47B at NAS Patuxent River in the coming
months before final carrier-based arrestments later in 2013.
Unmanned aircraft have been grabbing the headlines today. First, there is now a clearer picture available of what appears to be China's first stealth UAV--but little more than that is really known, everything else is pure speculation. However, one industry source says that to his very experienced eyes, the aircraft is a genuine advance in Chinese aerospace development--unlike the farce that is the Iranian toy that was presented last week.
Meanwhile, the US Navy launched a Northrop Grumman X-47B from the USS George H W Bush earlier today--our very own Zach Rosenberg was there. The Navy got Flightglobal a slot on the helicopter even though they initially told us there was no room. The launch looks like it was quite successful--take a look below.
However, the X-47B did not carry out an arrested landing upon returning to Pax River. That could be because the unmanned jet was having difficulty making even that first trap it did the week before where the Navy showed off a video of the aircraft snagging a wire. Sources told the DEW Line, at the time of the earlier trap, the aircraft now had a 10 percent field boarding rate... So hopefully, this isn't an indication of a major problem. The X-47B guys have had to redesign their tail hook a number of times now due to the same inaccurate Navy-supplied wire dynamics model that was partly responsible for the F-35C's woes.
Meanwhile, back in scenic Crystal City, Lockheed showed off this picture of their Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft mockup. Lockheed hopes to displace Northrop'sentrant--likely X-47B derived--for the Navy's UCLASS effort.The UCLASS program will actually take four separate designs to a preliminary design review before downselecting to one. The UCLASS, which is an operational successor to the X-47B demonstrator, will likely be smaller than the Northrop-built prototypes and will likely only have a light strike capability. Speaking of Lockheed--the company showed us a video of the F-35B performing a vertical take-off from last Friday, but paradoxically because of the Navy and Joint Program Office, are not allowed to release it--which sucks for you guys. Frankly, it's just bizarre--it's a big base with lots of people and when a large 40,000lbs fighter takes-off vertically and hovers, folks are going to take notice.
The US Navy's Northrop Grumman X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System-Demonstrator (UCAS-D) made its first shore-based landing using a carrier's arresting gear system on 4 May. This first trap is the beginning of a series of tests before the X-47B makes its way onto the boat later this month.
"It moves us a critical step closer to proving that unmanned systems can be integrated seamlessly into Navy carrier operations," says Capt Jaime Engdahl, the Navy's UCAS program manager.
Carl Johnson, vice president and Navy UCAS program manager for Northrop Grumman, says, "The X-47B air vehicle performs exactly as predicted by the modeling, simulation and surrogate testing we did early in the UCAS-D program."
For the arrested landing, the X-47B used a navigation approach that closely mimics the technique it will use to land on an aircraft carrier underway at sea according to the Navy.
Apparently, there will be reporters on the carrier when the X-47B is shot off for the first time. Unfortunatelywe were not able to secure a slot--apparently due a lack of space, according to the Navy.
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.
The US Navy has started deck-handling trials for the Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat aircraft system demonstrator onboard the USS Harry S Truman (CVN-75). The Navy has released some high-resolution shots and video of the event. If everything works out as planned--testing on the ship and shore-based testing with catapults and arresting gear--the X-47B will starting flight testing on the Nimitz-class carrier next year.
The US Navy has loaded up the first Northrop Grumman X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator onto the USS Harry S Truman. The aircraft will be tested aboard the giant 100, 000 ton ship for about three weeks. Basically, it'll be doing air-ship integration trials. The X-47B is slated to fly off the Truman next year.
The Naval Air Systems Command has released a new video explaining how the Naval Electromagnetic Radiation Facility (NERF) is testing the Northrop Grumman X-47B Unmanned Combat Aircraft System-Demonstrator for potential frequency interference.
The new leadership team is in place at US Air Force
headquarters. Gen Mark Welsh has officially taken office as the Chief of Staff
of the USAF as of this past Friday, 10 August. His biggest challenge will be the budget during his time in office, no doubt.
Meanwhile, over in the Pacific, Gen Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle
has taken command of PACAF as of 3 August. The command is increasing in
importance given the renewed US emphasis on the Pacific.Bombers and fighters like the B-2 and
F-22 will continue to rotate to bases in the region as the US hopes to reassure
allies that it will be there to counterbalance the rising influence of China.
In the future, the USAF hopes to build a Long Range Strike-Bomber
to counter some of the anti-access/area denial capabilities emerging in the
Western Pacific. But the service also needs a new stealthier unmanned aircraft
to replace its fleet of Predators and Reapers in the mid-2020s, Maj Gen James
Poss, assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
told an audience at AUVSI's North America show last week.
Unfortunately, the service does not have the money to build
that replacement aircraft. It will, however, piggyback onto the US Navy's
Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program.
The USN, meanwhile, is putting the final touches onto the key performance parameters for the UCLASS. When there is a RFP issued--relatively soon, there will be multiple contracts awarded with a down select to one in 2016. If all goes well thereafter, the Navy will have a more or less operational aircraft on the decks of its carriers by 2020.Read that story
In the meantime, space, cyber and fifth-generation fighters
will have to fill that ISR void.
Right now, the 1st Fighter Wing's 27th
Fighter Squadron--the service's first F-22 squadron--is in Kadena, Japan. There
the unit will operate alongside the 18th Wing's F-15Cs, tankers and
AWACS. The 18th Wing--which has operational control of the
Raptors--will focus on integrating the stealthy, supercruising Raptors with
their active electronically scanned array (AESA) enhanced Eagle brethren.
Together, the fighters will prowl around the region showing the US flag.
The rest of the 1st FW is deployed to Savannah,
Georgia, as Langley's runway is in need of repair.
My colleagues Flight reporter Zach Rosenberg and Stephen Trimble--the original creator of this blog-- are at the base today for its media day. The Navy is showing off its various unmanned aircraft and conducting various briefings on various programs. I was supposed to be there, but instead I'll be at the Pentagon for the US Air Force's F-22 briefing.
The success of the X-47B, which was developed as part of the Navy's Unmanned Combat Air System-Demonstrator (UCLAS-D) program, is critical to the success of the follow-on Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft. The UCLASS will harvest much of the technology developed as part of the UCAS-D, the Navy's UCLASS program manager Charlie Nava told me earlier in the year. Every potential contractor will have access to the technology, he said.
Next year, the Navy will conduct carrier take-offs and landings onboard the USS Harry S. Truman... What makes that possible is a new ship-relative GPS that generates extremely precise positional data. That technology will also be used for when X-47B conducts aerial refueling demonstrations with both the USAF boom system and the Navy's probe-and-drogue system.
Looks like the US Navy's Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program is starting to take-off. The USN has already completed its analysis of alternatives for the program. Right now, the service's three-stars are hashing out the future aircraft's key performance parameters.
This is a Lockheed Martin rendering of the Sea Ghost--looks a lot like the RQ-170 or Polecat to me.
Once the USN sets those requirements, they have to be blessed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. If that all works out as planned, the USN will issue technology maturation contracts to a number of contractors, a senior Navy official says. After that, the USN will pick a single design to develop into an operational aircraft around 2016. The service still wants to have about a half-dozen jets available to train on a carrier deck by 2020, but the UCLASS squadron wouldn't necessarily deploy with that carrier air wing at that time. That would probably happen later.
The UCLASS would not have everything the Navy wants right off the bat, the senior Navy official says. But it will grow over time as technology and money becomes available. Particularly, while the UCLASS will start off with some degree of stealth, it will continue to add more signature reduction measures over time--as the budget allows. It will also add new capabilities in terms of sensors, weapons and payload over time--if there is money to pay for it. Cost could almost be considered a key performance parameter unto itself.
The US Air Force is planning on leveraging the UCLASS's initial capabilities document, mostly because it doesn't have the money for a new program right now. The service has already embedded a procurement officer with the Navy's UCLASS effort.
For many of the largest defense contractors like Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed and General Atomics, the UCLASS represents one of a handful of opportunities to get onboard a new start developmental effort--the other being a US Air Force Long Range Strike-Bomber. Boeing's military aircraft president Chris Chadwick said weeks ago that he is confident his company has a competitive UCLASS design. General Atomics has its Sea Avenger. Meanwhile Northrop Grumman is the incumbent with its X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System-Demonstrator. Though Lockheed does have a role the X-47B program, the company is planning on offering its own design for UCLASS.
Today Lockheed unveiled its Sea Ghost concept. At least to my eye, it bears a striking resemblance to Lockheed's previous RQ-170 and Polecat stealth unmanned aircraft designs. Kudos to Flight reporter Zach Rosenberg for spotting this earlier today...