The Carrier-Launched Predator C

You see a ton of animated pics of a UAV that looks just like Northrop’s X-47B carrier-launched stealth drone operating off of U.S. carriers of the 21st Century but this pic from General Atomics serves as a reminder that Northrop isn’t the only company vying to build the sea service’s first combat ready, carrier-launched attack drone.

This image from GA’s booth at the Surface Navy Association’s annual convention last week just outside Washington shows one of the company’s Predator C Avenger drones (or should I say Sea Avenger) getting ready to be launched from the USS Gerald R Ford’s bow by a GA-built¬†electromagnetic¬†catapult.

The Sea Avenger is one of four programs in the mix to build the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) drone. Other entries are Northrop, whose X-47B is gearing up to fly from an aircraft carrier, Lockheed Martin, who makes the Air Force’s RQ-170 and Boeing who makes the stealthy Phantom Ray drone.

  • trexryan

    If the comms drop or are hacked on the UAV side, it just doesn’t matter where (geographically) the remote pilot resides. For that reason, effort is spent on securing the comms and adding redundancy into the navs (supplement GPS with inertial nav and fail-safe RTB).

    • blight

      Can always use them for SEAD or for missile trucks.

    • beaver02

      what happens if they hack it and the rtb happens and they have control of the weapon systems?

  • Lightbringer

    I mentioned elsewhere on this site my thoughts about how the Royal Navy could achieve more “bang for the buck” flying drones off a handful of HMS Ocean-style light carriers than they could with the two supercarriers. Thinking it through, it seems logical that that’s going to be the future for a lot of medium sized militaries. Light carriers built cheaply to a commercial standard and drones. If a major company can come up with a small, stealthy, high performance and long endurance drone that can fly off a light carrier, you can bet that variations on that aircraft will be in use for the next 50 years around the globe…

    • zardinuk

      You mean a helicopter carrier like the America class?

      How about an unmanned packages for the F-35B?

      • blight

        My understanding was that only a few of the Americas would delete the well-deck. They’re still more for Gator delivery than for light carrier duty.

        • ziv

          Blight, you are right. Only LHA-6 and LHA-7 will be built without a well deck, but after Ellison’s attack on the funding, there might be no LHA-8. Or it could take even longer for the keel to be laid.

  • RCDC

    We should make sure the Iranians will not bring this down to their surface.

  • Dan

    Seems as though sometime last year I saw a video/simulation with the Sea Avenger deployed along with F-35C’s over on Stephen Trimble’s blog. The odd thing about it was that the timeline was 2014?-2015? or somewhere close. Talk about controlling a swarm or even a couple of drones from a 2-seat F-35C seems a bit premature, to say the least, given the impending (probably major) problem with the tailhook situation. Couldn’t a F-18F do the same thing or does it lack the link-capability?

  • Lance

    Forget about Hornets Tomcats and Predator drones How about we get some new carriers need them to launch planes and drones anyway and since they are retiring possibly 5 carriers this decade why spend money and new ships then.

  • Dan Gao

    Bleh. I hope the go for the X-47. I’m a sucker for flying wing designs.

    • blight

      Horten Flying Wing!

  • stopsopandpipa

    Have these ‘data links’ between uav’s and its operators been tested to prevent it from being jammed or can it be jammed? If it were up to me, I would secure the connection with some type of crypto and incorporate something like what HQ or SINGCARS uses and frequency hop.

    • Nathan

      The details would be classified. However there would be redundant communication systems in place.

      Jamming is not a particularly big issue. If communication is lost for any reason, autopilot would enable, and there are a number of actions the aircraft could take:

      1) Continue on with the mission using pre-programmed way-points
      2) Abort the mission and return to base, or another pre-programmed safe haven
      3) Circle until a reconnection can be made
      4) Launch an HARM missile to destroy the jamming source (jammers are beacons and easily destroyed)

  • ajSpades

    Also be aware that with UAVs becoming more autonomous, there may be no need for a uplink (command channel) to the aircraft. Without a command signal going TO the aircraft (indeed, you could set the aircraft to shut off it’s receiving command antennas) there wouldn’t be signal to hi-jack.

    To the argument that GPS signals could (and can) be jammed, bombing can still be done very accurately based off inertial navigation systems (INS).

  • Sanem

    here’s my solution for Navy UAVs

    – build carriers out of converted oil tankers: put a deck on them with a ski jump or some catapults (but that’s more complicated), and plenty of room below to store them (and missiles and troops and what not)

    you could argument that these ships would be less safe then if built to military standard, except the new RN super-carriers are being built to civlian standards to save money, so that’s no argument

    – design a STOVL tailsitter UCAV, jet engine or prop design, similar to the Convair XFY-1 Pogo or the Ryan X-13. it can take off conventially, and then land on its tail. any modern jet has enough power to hang in the air, so certainly they’ll be able to descend slowly

  • DennisJP

    They can program in the mission to the UCAVS just like they program target info into tomahawk cruise missles.
    The plane fly’s out and does the programed mission and fly’s back.