UCLASS Lockheed

CAPITOL HILL: A member of Congress, Rep. Randy Forbes, is so concerned about a new Navy program and its future importance that he has written Navy Secretary Ray Mabus about the requirements of the service’s promising drone known as UCLASS. (Scroll down to read the full document).

This is the second time Forbes, chairman of the House Armed Services seappower and power projection force subcommittee, has expressed his views to the Navy on UCLASS. We broke the story last time, when he and his ranking member, Mike McIntyre, wrote Mabus last September urging the Navy to buy a stealthy drone able to carry a large weapons payload.

We understand some on Capitol Hill would like UCLASS to incorporate so-called broadband stealth, which permits a plane to penetrate very high-frequency radars such as those China and Russia are developing. While BAE Systems is not expected to be a UCLASS competitor, their new Taranis drone may be designed for broadband stealth (tip of hat to my colleague Bill Sweetman at Aviation Week).

The main competitors for the UCLASS contract are expected to be Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin (pictured at top) and Northrop Grumman, the builder of the UCLASS precursor, the X-47B.

130517-N-YZ751-017 ATLANTIC OCEAN (May 17, 2013) An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator conducts a touch and go landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), marking the first time any unmanned aircraft has completed a touch and go landing at sea. George H.W. Bush is conducting training operations in the Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tony D. Curtis/Released)

The X-47B drone scoots off the back end of the USS BUSH flight deck and back into the sky after its first “touch and go.”

Forbes pushes aerial refueling, lethality and payload in addition to survivability as key requirements the Navy should focus on. Forbes, noting this is the Navy’s “only currently planned unmanned strike aircraft,” argues the plane should be able to meet both the needs of carriers and of combatant commanders, appearing to argue that it should possess long range and long loiter time so it isn’t limited to supporting the carrier fleet.

Forbes to Sec. Mabus 2-18-2014 UCLASS by BreakingDefense


  • Gary Church

    Kill the F-35 and fund this thing. It’s the future.

  • ycplum

    O.T., but I am looking at the artist rendering and can’t seem to help thnking that there should be a a red LED light moving left and right across the black “visor”/windscreen.

  • Gary Church

    Our future adversaries and our most dangerous present adversary (the military industrial complex) are unhappy with these unmanned platforms. For the trillion dollars we are paying for the joint strike fighter we can have thousands of these black triangles swarming in the skies of our enemy. They can be sent directly into the enemies camp without risking our pilots being taken prisoner and can be used as weapons themselves as a last resort. They will become more autonomous as time goes on and in this we have the big advantage. But every dollar we flush on legacy systems erodes that winning edge.

    I submit a fleet of merchant ships convertible to military transports, a fleet of commercial airliners convertible to military transports, a fleet of medevac helicopters convertible to military transports, even a fleet of diesel trucks convertible to military transport will allow us to free up resources to build the immense force of robots and missiles necessary to defend the nation. A nation of police officers and firefighters as reserve infantry and armor as well as the transport crews will allow for a force able to defend the nation. Only the efficient use of resources can allow the U.S. to continue to lead in world affairs. Presently our defense complex is Byzantine in nature and sending us down the road to eventual defeat.

  • Don Bacon

    From Rep. Forbes letter–

    . . .radar cross-section reduction throughout the threat frequency spectrum. . .

    That’s a well-deserved slam at the F-35 which is optimized against X-band radar only.

    from picard578:

    F-35 was designed from the outset to be less stealthy against X-band
    radar than the F-22. But it has characteristics which will reduce
    stealth level even further. Both F-35 and F-22 are only stealthy against
    enemy radars that are horizontal or few degrees from horizontal. Due to
    lower inclination of surfaces from the horizontal, this “stealth area”
    for the F-35 is far less than F-22s; and as soon as F-35 maneuvers, it
    becomes instantly unstealthy unless maneuvers are done only by vertical
    tail surfaces, keeping aircraft completely level. F-35 also has many
    irregularities in its surface – there is bulge above left wing,
    presumably where the gun is located on the A version, as well as bulges
    below wing root, on weapons bays doors, below the engine and below the
    nose where IRST is located. These all help increase F-35s RCS when it
    maneuvers away from horizontal plane.

    Of course the F-35 with its 40,000 pound thrust engine is not stealthy in other aspects either. The F-35 is larger, hotter and louder than the F-16, for example. So when you see any reference to F-35 “stealth” take it with a huge grain of salt.

  • CharleyA

    The Navy needs a long range aircraft on its decks. Both the otherwise excellent Super Hornet and the super expensive F-35C lack the range/persistence needed in the Pacific theater. The problem is that the Pentagon is full of bureaucrats and officers that have built their careers on the F-35 program, and will try to neuter the UCLASS spec to preserve F-35 numbers, much like they are blocking new Super Hornet orders.

    • John Johnson

      As far as persistence goes, both aircraft can satisfy that with air-to-air refueling. The issue with the F/A-18E/F or F-35 when it joins the Fleet is that they have a limited endurance biological system (a pilot) in the aircraft. The advantage unmanned will always have over manned flight is that you can rotate mission operators out on a regular basis on the ship to keep fresh eyes on the monitors. Yes, there are roles when a manned aircraft is necessary. All I’ve ever heard is that the unmanned platforms are being added to augment the missions not replace pilots.

      • CharleyA

        The idea is to reduce the reliance on finite tanker sorties by extending unrefueled range, hence the requirement of a longer ranged manned aircraft. The endurance of the pilot based on an aircraft carrier is not really the issue for a strike mission. You can get a fairly long mission radius in an eight hour flight, but that requires multiple tanking evolutions, which btw are stressful.

        • John Johnson

          You’re proving my point in a way, Charlie. Pilots are the ‘weak link’ in a mission requiring endurance…provided you give them a platform that have extensive unrefueled range. During both of the Gulf wars our rate of pilots flying a Mode I approach after a 6 – 8 hour missions skyrocketed because they were just plain worn out and they had to get back on board – first pass. The issue is not giving a pilot a jet with greater range. The issue is fielding a system with combat effectiveness after 10 – 12 hours…a manned platform fails in that respect…IMHO

          • CharleyA

            The good thing is that JPALS is coming online, and can be utilized by both manned and unmanned systems. As for ACLS, nothing is wrong with using Mode 1 to land – it’s a matter of culture as to whether you opt to use it or not. I think we are in agreement about unmanned systems and long mission profiles. Where we differ it seems is if a longer ranged manned aircraft is necessary. I am in the opinion that F-35 and F/A-18E/Fs ranges are suboptimal for the Pacific theater. The Super Hornet has a mod under development for CFTs that could be acquired and will help somewhat. F-35Cs EFTs have been delayed. Hopefully the future F/A-XX design (if built) will be large enough to carry the gas, and hopefully ADVENT technology can produce a more efficient engine.

  • paulrevere01

    OOO! OOO!, Miz Betty, I dun found me a poe-zition n a cause that’s gonna bring that revolvin’ door right on up to this here office!! Made in the shade baby, made in the shade.

  • @NotRizzo

    I’m very curious where the USN ends up going with the UCASS project, both in it’s initial stage and the beta version. On one handn you’d think they range/endurance of the unmanned system makes it perfect for the intel/reconn/limited strke roll with a very stealthy airframe. On the other hand I’ve heard they might look at a large platform with larger weapons loadout to the the “Truck” to delver the hardware for the more stealthy F-35C (including adding an air-to-air element).
    My guess is they eventually go with both types, but if forced to bet I’d say option 2 comes first.