The US Navy's largest unmanned air vehicle programmes are nearing major programme milestones, says Adm Matthias Winter, the executive officer managing the service's UAV and strike programmes.
The Northrop Grumman X-47B is on schedule to fly to the USS George HW Bush, becoming the first conventional UAV to take off and land on an aircraft carrier, Winter told the Autonomous Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) conference on 13 February. The first landing is expected in April or May 2013.
"The whole demonstration objective is to demonstrate the feasibility of operating an unmanned air vehicle and unmanned system in the carrier environment. That's not trivial," says Winters. "We have made huge strides of success at digitising the carrier environment. You can bring an X-47, you can bring a UCLASS [unmanned carrier-launched surveillance and strike aircraft], you can bring a [Northrop MQ-8B] Fire Scout, you can bring a whatever to a carrier."
The UCLASS programme is becoming better defined, with the imminent completion of a draft capability definitions document (CDD) and joint requirements oversight council memorandum (JROCM), which recommend key requirements for the new aircraft.
"The final JROCM and the draft CDD approval is on track by the end of February," says Winter. A competitive request for proposal is expected later in 2013. Winter also mentions that the aircraft, which will share crucial characteristics of the X-47B, will be armed with bombs and missiles already used by other USN aircraft.