Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems have each received a $15 million fixed-price contract for a preliminary design review (PDR) assessment for the US Navy's Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike aircraft.
The service is expected to release a draft request for proposal (RFP) in September, according to Rear Adm Mat Winter, the Naval Air Systems Command programme manager for unmanned aircraft, speaking at the AUVSI show in Washington DC on 14 August.
An industry day will be held in October where companies will be able to give the navy their feedback on the draft requirement. A final RFP will be released in the second quarter of 2014.
Once the navy receives the proposals from potential contractors, it 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.