By James Drew
Lockheed Martin wants to see the continuation of the X-47B demonstrator programme led by Northrop Grumman as the US Navy’s unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike (UCLASS) competition enters a “waiting period” with no firm requirements so far revealed.
Bob Ruszkowski, Lockheed’s director of advanced air dominance and unmanned systems strategy, says that industry and the navy still have much to learn about unmanned operations within a battle carrier group that is swarming with manned aircraft.
“It’s still very important for the navy to continue to learn how to operate unmanned aircraft in a manned aircraft environment,” he says. “The navy would have a lot to gain from continuing those demonstrations.”
Ruszkowski says future X-47B testing could focus on command and control (C2), safe operations, information sharing across the battle group, and concepts of operation. That would help reduce risk across the UCLASS programme, he adds.
Lockheed, Northrop, Boeing and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems all intend to compete once the navy issues a request for proposals, but US lawmakers and some within the military have questioned whether the aircraft should be more focused on the combat element of the mission.
Until the requirements are established, Ruszkowski says the teams cannot firm their competing air vehicle design. However, more work can be done on “fundamental systems” like C2 and deck handling.
Lockheed is committed to a fixed wing design, but little else. “It’s adaptable, it’s flexible and it has the attribute for what we believe the future requirements need to be,” says Ruszkowski. “We’re well positioned to compete.”