US Navy opens UCAS-D contest

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Boeing and Northrop both submit systems developed under J-UCAS for service¹s combat air system competition

Boeing and Northrop Grumman are responding to a US Navy request for proposals (RFP) for the $1.9 billion unmanned combat air system carrier demonstration (UCAS-D). Award of a contract for the six-year technology demonstration effort is expected in the third quarter of this year.

Boeing will offer the X-45N naval derivative of its X-45C demonstrator, the first of which was completed but never flown after the US Air Force/Navy Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) programme was cancelled in February 2006. Northrop will offer the 19,000kg (42,000lb) gross-weight X-47B, which was also under construction for J-UCAS.

The RFP calls for an at-sea demonstration of a "low-observable planform" UCAS involving autonomous operations in carrier-controlled airspace within a 90km (50nm) radius of the ship; catapult launch and arrested landing, including approach, wave-off and bolter (missing the wire); and deck handling.

Boeing is already flying an F/A-18F Super Hornet modified with X-45 software to demonstrate approaches at the navy¹s Patuxent River test centre in Maryland, says George Muellner, president of Boeing Advanced Systems. The UCAS-D is the first step towards a next-generation strike system for the USN, he says.

Another solicitation, meanwhile, for management services to support the navy's UCAS advanced development programme office (ADPO) at Patuxent River, reveals that the UK remains part of the effort. The UK Ministry of Defence joined the J-UCAS programme before its cancellation, but the new solicitation includes support for UK ³technical and programmatic staffs² in the ADPO.

Boeing is "working with the US Air Force Research Laboratory to decide what to do" with the single X-45C, says Muellner. The company¹s work on the USAF¹s emerging Long-Range Strike requirement is focusing on a survivable, subsonic manned/unmanned platform about twice the size of the X-45C carrying a 9,000kg-plus payload.


© Boeing 
 Boeing is offering the X-45N naval derivative of its X-45C