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15 septembre 2015 2 15 /09 /septembre /2015 07:20
photo US Navy

photo US Navy


09 September, 2015 BY: James Drew - FG


Washington DC  - The long-running debate over the mission of the US Navy's carrier-launched unmanned surveillance and strike aircraft might have set the "UCLASS" competition back few years, but the maritime force's acquisition chief says getting the requirements right from the beginning is vital.


“This programme is in acquisition hell right now. It’s been inside the building for three years, just trying to get out and see the light of day,” Navy assistant secretary Sean Stackley said at a Navy League forum in Washington 9 September. “We’ll debate on it some more this fall (September to November) with OSD to determine whether or not we have the right programme, not just for the navy, but the nation.” With many conflicting views and opinions about the role of the aircraft, Stackley says once the requirements question is settled, the programme will have a much better chance of delivering the carrier-based UAV the navy needs to maintain its technological edge. “It will be five to 10 years before [UCLASS] is operational, and then it will be flying for another 20 to 25 years. We’ve got to get it right,” he says. “We’re all being patient. Industry is being patient. The navy views this as a critical programme and we’ve got to leverage what unmanned offers to our [carrier] air wing sooner rather than later.”


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8 février 2015 7 08 /02 /février /2015 08:20
Navy delays fielding UCLASS to 2023


3 Feb 2015 By: Stephen Trimble - FG


A decade-long pursuit of an unmanned, carrier-launched surveillance and strike aircraft (UCLASS) must wait three more years. The Obama Administration’s fiscal 2016 budget request postpones the in-service milestone for the UCLASS aircraft by three years to FY2023. The programme has been held up since top Pentagon officials last September rolled it into a wider study of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting systems. A request for proposals is now scheduled for release in the second quarter of FY2016, with contract award set for the second quarter of FY2017. The first flight milestone for the selected aircraft is planned for the third quarter of FY2020, followed by the initial operational capability milestone three years later, according to Navy budget documents released on 3 February.


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14 janvier 2015 3 14 /01 /janvier /2015 08:20



7 Jan 2015 By: Stephen Trimble - FG


Washington DC - The US Navy has decided to embed its future unmanned surveillance and strike aircraft in the same air wing that operates the Northrop Grumman E-2C/D, an airborne command and control platform.

The decision settles a philosophical debate within the navy over who should have command over the unmanned carrier launched airborne surveillance and strike (UCLASS) aircraft during operations.

Options under review as late as August included operating UCLASS aircraft as a standalone unit, as a detachment to a wing of Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters or as a detachment to a wing that includes the E-2C/D.

Naval officials quietly announced their decision in a little-noticed directive released last month. That notice, dated 18 December, says a new UCLASS unit called the “fleet introduction team” will be established on 1 October.


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12 septembre 2014 5 12 /09 /septembre /2014 07:20
The X-47Bs proved engineering concepts for designing unmanned carrier-based jet aircraft, the objective of the new UCLASS program - photo US Navy

The X-47Bs proved engineering concepts for designing unmanned carrier-based jet aircraft, the objective of the new UCLASS program - photo US Navy



Sept 11, 2014 defense-unmanned.com

(Source: US Naval Air Systems Command; issued Sept 10, 2014)


Navy Integrates ‘Common’ Software Into Next-Generation Unmanned Carrier-Based System


PATUXENT RIVER, Md. --- NAVAIR engineers recently installed new software for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system’s control station at the program’s Naval Air Station Patuxent River lab.


In early September, the UCLASS team integrated the latest iteration of Common Control System (CCS) software into the next-generation unmanned effort, laying the groundwork for potential use across multiple domains –airborne, land and subsurface.


“One of the premises that started CCS was not rebuilding the software that we needed for every UAS every time,” said Jeff Davis, CCS team lead. “We focused on using existing products that we have within the Navy inventory to provide that first baseline going forward for the next UAS, in this case UCLASS. As a result, this allows development investment to focus on the future — the new capabilities that you can bring to the fleet.”


This new software version is the first to provide an unmanned command and control capability using the latest Navy Interoperability Profile (NIOP) standards. The NIOPs allow control systems to talk to and share data with multiple air vehicles, Davis said.


His team leveraged support from other unmanned programs, specifically Triton and Fire Scout, to build baseline software for UCLASS. They are currently testing this software with an air vehicle simulator based on Triton.


“This iteration forms the baseline for all future UCLASS control software,” said Cmdr. Wade Harris, Control System and Connectivity (CS&C) lead for UCLASS. “These early lab tests will help inform us as we move forward with development and eventually test with the air vehicle.”


As the lead systems integrator, the Navy is spearheading the CS&C and carrier segments, while working with industry to lead the design and development the air system segment.


“One of the unique aspects of the UCLASS program is that we have to pull all of the different segments together,” said Ron La France, UCLASS integration lead. “We have the control station and connectivity segment, carrier segment, along with the air system segment. All three of those have to be integrated and tested at the system level and that is what we will do here in this lab.”


These government-led segments require a high-level of coordination. The UCLASS program team is working with 72 programs of record, 22 program offices, six program executive offices and three systems commands, he said.


UCLASS will be the first-ever, forward-deployed, carrier-based unmanned air system designed to provide persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting with precision-strike capability. An early operational capability is anticipated in the 2020-2021 timeframe.

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20 mars 2014 4 20 /03 /mars /2014 12:20
UCLASS RFP expected by the end of March

Northrop Grumman's X-47B unmanned air system demonstrator on the deck of aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt on 10 November, 2013.


Mar. 20, 2014 by Jon Hemmerdinger – FG


Washington DC - Within the coming weeks the US Navy will release a request for proposal (RFP) for its unmanned carrier launched airborne surveillance and strike (UCLASS) programme, the service tells Flightglobal.


The announcement follows the release of budget documents earlier this month that reveal the Navy has delayed first flight of UCLASS from the second quarter of fiscal year 2017 to the third quarter of fiscal year 2018.


The documents attribute the delay to "adjustments to the programme's acquisition strategy."


Though the USN declines to provide a specific date for the RFP release, it says it typically releases RFPs within 15 days of posting a synopsis on the federal government's procurement website.


That synopsis went up on 13 March, meaning the RFP should be released by 28 March.


The 13 March posting announced that only four companies will be permitted to bid on the air vehicle segment of UCLASS.


Those companies, which already received Navy contracts to conduct UCLASS preliminary design reviews, include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Northrop Grumman, says the Navy.


“Award to any contractor other than a [preliminary design review] participant would result in significant schedule delays and require substantial additional costs which are not expected to be recouped by the government through full and open competition,” says the Navy.


The announcement follows the release of the US Navy’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal, which still must be approved by Congress but would inject $403 million for UCLASS funding for fiscal year 2015.


That’s more than three times the $122 million allotted for the project in the current fiscal year.


The service plans to spend $2.67 billion through fiscal year 2019 on UCLASS development, according to budget documents.


Reports surfaced last year that the tight budget environment led the Navy to relax UCLASS requirements for stealth, inflight refueling and the ability to operate in contested airspace.


The Navy plans to invest $3.7 billion through 2020 on UCLASS and seeks to eventually field six to 24 of the stealthy UAVs, according to a 2013 Government Accountability Office report.


The report noted that the programme faces schedule risk because it is “heavily reliant on the successful development and delivery of other systems and software.”


It added that the Navy “will be challenged to effectively manage” and integrate the UCLASS air vehicle with carrier systems and control systems.


The report also notes that cost estimates are uncertain and could exceed available funding, and says problems could arise because the source selection process has been “compressed” to eight months from a typical 12 months.

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23 septembre 2013 1 23 /09 /septembre /2013 12:20
Analysis: Industry concerned about US Navy UCLASS requirements

Sep. 23, 2013 by Dave Majumdar – FG


Washington DC - Concerns are being raised within industry about the new direction mandated by the Pentagon for the US Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft programme.


The reason for the concern is because the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) has fundamentally altered the requirements for the UCLASS from a long-range penetrating strike platform to something akin to a modestly stealthy carrier-based Predator. “Where it leaves us is developing an alternative that meets the requirements that the navy has outlined,” says one industry source – which means spending even more company money after funding nearly three years of internal research and development designing an aircraft without any guidance from the USN.


“This looks like a giant runaway for General Atomics and Predator, I would not be surprised if the other companies ‘no-bid,’” says Dan Goure, an analyst at the Lexington Institute. Companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have spent a large sum of their own money on UCLASS and may not want to dump even more money into what amounts to a stacked deck, he says.


“It does damage to an industrial base that is already fragile,” Goure adds.


Congress is also concerned about the direction of the USN acquisition strategy, which has been described as “atypical”. In a letter to navy secretary Ray Mabus, congressmen Randy Forbes and Mike McIntyre – chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee’s sea power subcommittee respectively – question the service’s plan to field four carrier air wings worth of UCLASS aircraft before the completion of operational testing or even a formal “Milestone B” decision to enter engineering and manufacturing development.


This is a concern shared by some in industry. “I have had similar concerns regarding the navy trying to procure one to four carriers worth of UCLASS aircraft for early operational capability as part of a technology demonstration phase that is pre-Milestone B,” says another industry source. “The only type of technology development programme which results in ‘residual operational assets or capabilities’ used to be called a JCTD [Joint Capabilities Technology Demonstration] – which the UCLASS programme is not.”


However, more fundamentally for the industry, both industry sources concur that the USN has deviated significantly from the normal process for developing a new aircraft. Typically, the industry would have been developing solutions over the past two years based on an initial set of navy-issued requirements. Those specifications would have been refined and updated as needed, based on various industry-informed trade studies, both sources say. That procedure would likely have yielded more relevant industry investment, more affordable requirements and a better overall competition.


The USN, however, did not issue any aircraft performance specifications or draft requirements until the spring of 2013. That means that for nearly three years, industry teams have been developing potential UCLASS candidates using their own money and based on their own assumptions about the navy’s requirements, both sources agree. That means each competitor is now trying to “force-fit” their aircraft into the UCLASS preliminary design review phase – which is now requiring even more investment, one industry source says.


The lack of industry feedback has had some unforeseen consequences. Superficially, the shift to an aircraft designed for long-duration orbits over permissive airspace would appear to favour General Atomics, which builds the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper. However, the current requirements are not as simple as they look, says one industry source. “They want to span the deck-cycle, the means the endurance has to be greater than 12h,” he says. “From a carrier that’s pretty significant because you have limitations on wing-span just because of the carrier environment.”


Fundamentally from an engineering standpoint, to achieve better endurance, the aircraft must have a higher aspect ratio wing – which means a longer wing-span. However, on board a carrier, the wing-span is limited to about the same length as a Northrop X-47B. The absolute maximum is probably 70ft (21m), which means – by necessity – weight reduction is the key to meeting the USN’s new requirements.


“If you were allowed to refuel in the air then you might actually have a much broader performance spectrum,” the source says. “With that gone, you’re into designing as light a weight structure as can survive the carrier environment and hold as much fuel as you can.


Although the navy says that the UCLASS is going to be designed to operate in “permissive and low-end contested environments”, one industry source says that the low-observable requirement was not completely removed. “I don’t think the survivability requirements are trivial,” he says. However, he concedes that “the overwhelming design driver now is endurance without refueling”.


An aircraft carrier would be expected to deploy enough UCLASS aircraft to maintain two orbits about 600nm (1,110km) distance from the ship, or maintain a single orbit at a range of 1,200nm. If the UCLASS were called on to conduct a light strike mission, it could attack lightly defended targets at a distance of 2,000nm. As currently envisioned, the UCLASS will have a total payload of 1,360kg (3,000lb), of which only 454kg would consist of air-to-ground weapons.


Either a flying-wing or wing-body tail configuration could meet the requirements, the industry source says. However, the endurance requirement is strenuous enough that the source says that he is not sure that a turbofan engine is a “viable option”.


Boeing and General Atomics appear to have selected a wing-body tail design, while Lockheed Martin has disclosed its RQ-170-derived flying-wing concept. Presumably, the Northrop design will resemble its X-47B demonstrator.

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