The US Navy hopes to continue flying its two Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat air system demonstrators (UCAS-D). The service had earlier said that the prototypes would be retired after the type had demonstrated the ability to make carrier arrested recoveries onboard the USS George H W Bush: an achievement first made on 10 July.
"The two X-47B air vehicles will reside at [NAS Patuxent] River [Maryland] while the N-UCAS programme continues to assess potential opportunities for additional test operations at Pax River and at-sea," the US Naval Air Systems Command says. "These efforts will focus on reducing risks for the follow-on unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike [UCLASS] programme and help the navy to better understand how to operate unmanned systems of this size in the areas of research and development."
Analyst Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute says that the USN will continue to fly the X-47B because many critics had charged that the service was prematurely retiring the two testbeds. "Navy leaders are responding to criticism and probably the likelihood that sequestration will seriously hinder and/or delay UCLASS," she says.
The X-47B aircraft are now expected to continue flying into 2014.