The US Navy revealed at the show yesterday it expects to announce a name and designation for the Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft before the end of the fiscal year, in a move that appears aimed at putting the program onto a more secure footing.
"We will have a name for UCLASS here by the end of the fiscal year, and we will also have its designator formally approved," says Rear Adm Mat Winter, the Naval Air Systems Command program executive officer for unmanned aircraft.
Meanwhile, the navy is moving forward with the program, and Winter says a draft request for proposal (RFP) will be released in September. There will be an industry day in October where companies will be able to give the Navy their feedback. A final RFP will be released in the second quarter of 2014, Winter says.
Once the navy receives the proposals back from potential contractors, the USN hopes to select an "air vehicle segment" by the first quarter of 2015, Winter says. Once the contractor is selected, it will take between three and six years to get the UCLASS to early operational capability. Exactly how long it will take depends on the particular contractor proposal and exactly how mature the proposed aircraft design is, Winter adds.
Similarly, while the USN has a requirement for a certain number of orbits, it will depend on the specific capabilities of whichever air vehicle is chosen as to exactly how many airframes the navy will purchase, Winter says.
But the command-and-control segment and the digitization of the carrier will be led by the government itself, Winter says. Further, the NAVAIR itself will act as the lead systems integrator for the overall UCLASS program.
"Is it a challenging task? Absolutely," Winter says. "Is it one that we can do? The answer is yes."