The Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system is just what it sounds like: “Top Gun” for drones.
The U.S. Navy issued a “restricted” draft request for proposals for the carrier-based drone on April 17 and has already narrowed down the field of companies vying for chance to work on the project.
Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Atomics and Northrop Grumman have been involved in the project in some capacity, technology website Ars Technica reported Tuesday.
While the Navy seems to have wrestled with what exactly its new drones will be capable of, members of Congress want UCLASS aircraft that could essentially provide the strike capability possessed by humans.
“We believe the current path could limit the capability growth of the system in the future,” Rep. Randy Forbes, chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, and Rep. Mike McIntyre, the subcommittee’s ranking member, wrote in September 2013, Ars Technica reported.
“We believe UCLASS should be designed to be an integral part of the [Carrier Air Wing] that can employ in the full-spectrum of the Navy’s power-projection mission,” they wrote.
In June, a Navy document obtained by the U.S. Naval Institute indicated that the Navy wanted a drone program that would “have the capability to put UCLASS drones up on patrol during the hours that carriers were not conducting manned flight operations as a mid-to-long range surveillance patrol,” Ars Technica reported. With the congressional input, plans changed.
“We’re talking Tomcat size [drones],” the Navy’s director of air warfare, Rear Adm. Mike Manazir, told the U.S. Naval Institute News of the new vision, Ars Technica reported. “We have heavy-end ISR and strike capability with some growth in the ability to carry weapons and some growth in the sensor package. … They’re big, heavy, capable airplanes that will fly for 14 hours, that can give away gas” (refuel other planes), Ars Technica reported.
To put the size dimensions in perspective, UCLASS will feature drones that will be 70,000 and 80,000 pounds, which is twice the size of the Navy’s X-47B unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), Ars Technica said.