The US Navy expects formal approval of its unmanned carrier-launched surveillance strike (UCLASS) aircraft requirements in the early fall.
"The UCLASS requirements have not been approved by the CNO [Chief of Naval Operations]," the Naval Air Systems Command says. "Approval is expected in the early fall timeframe."
Contractors, however, received a draft version of the aircraft's requirements the week of 5 August 2012, an industry source says. Those requirements focus on unrefueled endurance.
Once the USN has a final set of requirements, the service will select a number of different contractors to develop competing designs.
Northrop Grumman will likely submit a bid based on its X-47B naval unmanned combat aircraft demonstrator, while General Atomics has said it will submit a version of its Predator-C jet-powered unmanned aircraft. Lockheed Martin recently unveiled its Sea Ghost concept while Boeing says it will submit a design that draws lessons from its X-45C Phantom Ray.
A senior USN official recently told Flightglobal that there will be a down-select to a single design in 2016. The service is still hoping for an initial operational capability (IOC) in 2020, he said, but IOC in this case could mean that six UCLASS aircraft embark aboard a carrier during its pre-deployment work-ups.
It does not mean that the UCLASS would be ready to deploy onboard a carrier for a six-month deployment, the official said. That would happen sometime later.