Navy approves contracts to develop carrier based UAV strike and surveillance aircraft

Defense News:
As expected, the US Navy has awarded four development contracts to develop designs to compete for the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) Air Vehicle.

The contracts — each for $15 million — went to the Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo.; General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., Poway, Calif.; Lockheed Martin Corp., Palmdale, Calif.; and Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., El Segundo, Calif.

According to the contract announcements, the preliminary design review assessment is to support UCLASS, a system “to enhance aircraft carrier/air wing operations by providing a responsive, world-wide presence via an organic, sea-based unmanned aerial system, with persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting, and strike capabilities.”

A presolicitation for the Aug. 14 awards was announced on March 26, with a request for proposals being issued on June 10.

Officials for the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) have said a competition for a final airframe design is expected to begin sometime after January.

The UCLASS is to be an operational, jet-powered aircraft, able to carry out persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and engage in strike missions at ranges up to 2,000 nautical miles.

The basic technology for a carrier-based, unmanned jet aircraft has been proven by Northrop Grumman’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) program, which produced two test aircraft. The first carrier launch of the aircraft took place May 14, and the first landings were performed on July 10, successfully completing the test program requirements.
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A strike aircraft with a range of 2,000 nautical miles would allow US carriers to launch attacks while staying well out of the range of potential "carrier killer" missiles by countries such as China.  I assume the specs will also include stealth technology that will allow them to evade radar.  The X-47B was an interesting aircraft that used components of existing carrier based aircraft along with drone technology and a stealthy design.  Unlike most other drones it was not piloted so much as programmed.  It appears to leap from much of the current drone tech.  The Navy needs this new aircraft.

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