The Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would restrict Navy spending on the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program until the completion of a Pentagon review of its entire information, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) portfolio and those results were reported back to Congress, as USNI News reported. The Navy’s FY 2015 budget submission included $403 million to further develop the UCLASS program.
As it is expected, the bill will have passed both the Senate and the House. This fateful document also directs the Secretary of the Navy to submit a report to Congress on how the Navy decided on the most recently stated set of requirements for UCLASS through the prism of the emerging anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) threats the military has touted as a dangerous limitation to U.S. forces and future capabilities of a carrier strike group (CSG) in 2030.
In this regard, it is worth noting the following point: the FY 2017 budget submission will include the study, which will require the Navy to outline its plan for how the UCLASS would work with the Navy’s EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, the F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and the planned next generation F/A-XX naval fighter.
«I am very encouraged by the conference outcome on the UCLASS program. The OSD study… will not just force a second look at requirements for this platform, but also take a broader look at our plans for the carrier air wing in the 2030 time period», Congressman J. Randy Forbes (4th district of Virginia), Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee told USNI News. «We need to be measuring these programs twice and cutting only once when it comes to important new investments that we will be relying on to project power in the contested environments of the future».
The report will also require the Navy to provide an UCLASS acquisition strategy, program costs and schedule information to Congress. By the way, USNI News reporter Sam LaGrone argues that the UCLASS program inside the Navy is called the RAQ-25.
The service has pitched an UCLASS with an emphasis on surveillance and light strike in the last two years – a change from a stealthy UAV capable of penetrating strikes with a payload equivalent to the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
«The Navy may have made an appropriate set of trade-offs between costs and capabilities in deriving a set of requirements for UCLASS, but those trade-offs should be evaluated in the context of the overall CSG capability, not on the basis of individual capabilities of weapons systems or an unconstrained budget», according to a report from the bill.
An earlier House report found, «disproportionate emphasis in the requirements on unrefueled endurance to enable continuous intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support to the carrier strike group, would result in an aircraft with too little survivability and too small an internal weapons payload capability». As an example, UCAV X-47B can carry up to 4,500 lbs/2,040 kg payload in contrast with F-35C – 18,000 lbs/8,160 kg total weapons payload.
Finally, we should note that four American companies – Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Atomics – have all won early contracts to develop the UCLASS concept and were expected to respond to the final request for proposal. The US Navy expects to field UCLASS by 2020.
Wingspan: 62.1 ft/18.9 m
Folded Wingspan: 30.9 ft/9.4 m
Length: 38.2 ft/11.6 m
Height: 10.4 ft/3.2 m
Wheelbase: 13.9 ft/4.2 m
Altitude: >40,000 ft/12,192 m
Range: >2,100 nm/3,889 km
Max Gross Takeoff Weight: 44,000 lbs/19,958 kg
Twin Internal Weapons Bay: 4,500 lbs/2,040 kg
Top Speed: High Subsonic
Powerplant: Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220U