DARPA seeks UAV for LCS 2

The U.S. military wants to build a medium-sized drone that it can fly off Littoral Combat Ship 2 (LCS2)-class ships.

Long endurance drones have caught the eye of naval leaders, and well, pretty much all military officials for their ability to collect intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). However, most of the drones that can stay in the air longest need an aircraft carrier or a land base to operate from.

While the LCS2 is certainly no zodiak, it’s still considerably smaller than a carrier.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) officials have put out a call for defense companies to submit designs for a drone that could carry 600 pounds worth of sensor equipment and fly between 600 to 900 nautical miles from its ship, according to an agency statement.

DARPA listed the requirements that they want to achieve with the new UAV. Below are those requirements:

• Devising a reliable launch and recovery technique that enables large aircraft operations from smaller ships, even in rough seas;

• Designing an aircraft with range, endurance and payload comparable to emerging land-based unmanned aircraft, while still meeting the demands of the maritime environment;

• Ensuring the entire system can operate with minimal, and preferably reversible, ship modifications and minimal personnel requirements for operations and maintenance; and

• Packaging the system to fit into the limited space aboard ships.

DARPA’s program manager, Daniel Patt, compared the new UAV he hopes to develop to a falcon that always returns. Patt said he hopes to have a demonstration prototype in 40 months.

“It’s like having a falcon return to the arm of any person equipped to receive it, instead of to the same static perch every time,” Patt said in a statement. “About 98 percent of the world’s land area lies within 900 nautical miles of ocean coastlines. Enabling small ships to launch and retrieve long-endurance UAVs on demand would greatly expand our situational awareness and our ability to quickly and flexibly engage in hotspots over land or water.”

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • blight_

    Fire Scouts?

    • FormerDirtDart

      More likely something based closer to the Fire-X, or the Boeing A-160

    • tweedle dee

      I think range is the issue with that

      • blight_

        Fire Scout probably goes farther than LCS’ offensive capability. /snicker

        • Jeff

          I’m guessing that with the right kind of mods you could fit about 80 harpoons on and LCS 2 type without a great deal of effort. That large flight deck could just as well be armored hatches as plain steel if the design effort were made.

        • FormerDirtDart

          Goes farther than a Perry classes offensive capability too. Honestly 600 nmi out-ranges everything except planes, Tomahawks and Tridents

          • blight_

            At which point, Littoral Combat Ship is flying UAVs over land targets.

            The LCS is going to be a teleoperated vehicle mothership: USV’s, UAV’s…

            Nothin’ combat about it.

          • JCitizen

            The farther away you see your enemy the faster you can start running! :)

  • Joe Schmoe

    IAI Panther

    It’s already in use aboard ships.

    • Jon

      The IAI Panther weighs less than 150 lbs. I don’t see it meeting the requirement to carry 600 lbs of sensors.

    • FormerDirtDart

      It weighs only 142 lbs, and has a operational radius of 37 miles.
      How you calculate a 600 lbs payload, and a 600-900 nmi range into that is beyond me.

    • Gray

      Maybe it could be used as a basis for development.
      the 40 month timescale is pretty ambitious unless you already have a pretty good idea about how this would be done and just upscale it.

  • EW3

    A small version of the MV-22.

    • UAVTOL
  • JE_McKellar

    How about a floatplane like the Kingfishers from WW2?

    • Jeff M

      Those don’t work too well in the open sea, especially small ones.

    • ohwilleke

      It is a good idea and one could make the design more robust to allow for somewhat higher sea states.

      For example, if you could land it with some sort of parachute and rapidly inflating liferaft when rough seas made it necessary, a bit like a space capsule, you would only need somewhat fair seas to launch it (and one can control launch conditions more easily than landing conditions).

      • JE_McKellar

        Catapult launch was good enough back in the day, so it should be enough now. To further the space-capsule idea, I imagine a short of space-age PBY Catalina, with a lifting-body fuselage, turbo-prop mounted on a strut above, with a tail and wings attached to the engine mount. Since the tail and wings would be the first things to break in a rough landing in a high sea-state, you could make them cheap, modular, and easily replaceable.

        For launch and recovery, you could make a combination catapult/crane the size of a shipping container and bolt it to the flight deck.

  • Lance

    Could use a Predator but use rockets to assist take off. How ever it must be small enough to be fit into the hanger along with a SH-60B Seahawk.

    • ziv

      And it would land how? I don’t think Predators are disposable. The UK did that with fighters at the height of the Atlantic campaign, it was hard on the pilots but the Predator would take the pilot out of the equation, admittedly. ;-)

      • blight_

        In terms of risk/reward the reward was shooting down maritime Condors, which the Germans could not afford to replace.

      • Lance

        hook and cables like small carriers

        • blight_

          Re-engineering the Predator to have an towhook is more billable time for General Atomics, but is not infeasible. The other question is what is the landing speed of this UAV, and will the sudden stop cause long-term structural damage?

          • Daniel M

            My original note assumed it flew onto the deck at about 45 knots, and the ship was traveling approximately that speed into the wind, so it could actually hover over the deck. so no sudden stop. The min velocity landing of a Predator is already 63 knots, so either STOL flaps/slats or a bipe wing mod should drop its landing speed to 45 knots, perhaps less. As for takeoff, again use the high top LCS dash speed, this time with the wind, and a robo water scooter/skidoo pulling a tow rope or JATO assist, or both.

      • riceball

        Simple, you use the same recovery system that they used on the Iowas, just string up a big net to catch the UAV as it crosses the stern. Granted that the UAVs carried by the Iowas were probably smaller and slower than this proposed UAV but better materials and a slower approach speed should (in theory) fix things.

  • Jayson

    A demonstrator in 40 months … 4 years? That’s pretty far fetched.

    • EW3

      General Atomics could turn it in under a year on their dime if they wanted to.

      They’ve done that with many of their UAV products.

      It’s a very impressive engineering company, wish I were just starting my career, I would have really liked working there.

    • Jeff
    • d. kellogg

      The odd part about the timeframe they’re asking: did it take all of 4 months for the USN to integrate Israeli UAVs (called RPVs back then) onto a US battleship for use against Iraq during Desert Storm?

      Yet we need almost 3 and a half years to do that same end result now?

      For the money we pay US defense contractors, it certainly seems a lot of the learning curve, even the overall knowledge base, it seems to exponentially reduce everytime the price goes up…
      Wonder what kind of fancy math they teach business executives?

      • FormerDirtDart

        Not sure how long it to to plan and integrate the AQ-2 Pioneers onto Battleships. But, they were doing it back in 1986, so that’s just a bit earlier than Desert Storm.

    • riceball

      More like 3 years and 4 months.

  • IronV

    The IOWA class batteships used Pioneer UAVs for gunfire spotting in the 90s. Very effective. I was amused at the recovery system-a big net. No literally. A big net. Worked great.

    • FormerDirtDart

      The payload and range they are targeting will require something much, much larger than a RQ-2. I would wager executing a captured recovery of something with such mass would be quite difficult.

      • IronV

        Roger that. Wasn’t suggesting the RQ-2; way too small. Just reminiscing about the recovery system… if you recall an Iraqi contigent actually came out of their underground bunkers and surrendered to one of the WISCONSIN’s drones. They’d figured out that when the little machine flew over, certain death in a rain of 16″ shells wasn’t far behind…

        • AirDefeatBattle

          Iraqi troops also surrendered to a CNN camera crew, never mind the infamous story of the hummve stuck in the mud to which a BMP and T-72 surrendered, after pulling out the hummve.

          • IronV

            Well, I don’t blame them… the interesting thing about the WISCONSIN story is the “cause and effect.” Drone flies over. Giant artillery shells blow bunkers out of the ground… Good time to bring out the white flags.

  • Conradswims

    A Transvestite ship!

  • Prodozul

    This would explain why DARPA was so interested in a new design for a VTOL

  • Belesari

    Well my idea is a old one. The flying flapjack. Was made for STO/SL could a medium sized version be be built?

    • AirDefeatBattle

      You could scale it down sure, but it’d still needed an actual flight deck for takeoff and landing. Also the actual XF5U had major stability and other handling problems which is why it was so delayed and never entered service.

      I’d go with one of the concepts for a tilt rotor which has the rotors fold for storage and switch to jet engine flight in mid air allowing for (on paper) even supersonic speed. Considerable work was done on this in the 1970s and its an ideal way to get VTOL with highly efficient cruise. V-22 is what we got out of a decision to go with a simpler, less efficient and slower sort of configuration. Only downside besides being complex to the folding rotor idea is high empty weight, but that isn’t so important in a plane meant for recon rather then as a troop or cargo transport.

      The idea has come back now and then since the 70s http://www.aviationweek.com/Blogs.aspx?plckBlogId…

  • William_C1

    If there is one nice thing about the LCS is that it has a large hanger and helicopter deck. If they can’t find any other use for them the LCS should be great for deploying unmanned assets from.

  • Daniel M

    Keep in mind that the LCS can pull nearly 50 knots. So take a Predator, add folding wings for last 1/3 of length, and have STOL flaps/slots on the inner 60%. A Predator with a 55 knot landing speed would have only a 5 knot overtake speed, plenty slow for auto capture. If you have a headwind all the better.

  • Texas

    The Navy should find a replacement for the LCS first! One that can fire a torpedo, or a Harpoon, or a ESSM. Throw in a 5-in gun too.

  • Daniel

    Convair pogo sucked as a maned option but might make a good uav

    • JCitizen

      Especially with today’s computer control making almost anything perfectly flyable. Maybe that is an idea that needs revisiting!

  • blight_

    I wonder if it would be cheaper to teleoperate a small helicopter, like a Schweizter 300. The Fire-X (as someone else mentioned) is the next option. Based on the Longranger family of Bell helicopters and teleoperated. The smaller JetRanger is an option…and isn’t the Kiowa Warrior based on the JetRanger?

    Or a Brantly B-2. Fair amount of small helicopter options…unless we are open to trying some kind of STOL option?

  • Sanem

    tailsitters like the Pogo have the potential to be gamechanging
    basically a helicopter for landing and take off, but flies like an aircraft and thus has aircraft speed and range. also STOVL should be feasable

    the huge advantage over other VTOL aircraft is that there is no need for a complicated tilt or thrust vectoring design or extra engines. that saves a lot of money and potential accidents and malfunctions

  • Sanem

    they need a bigger version of this: http://spyplanes.com/products-v-bat/

  • Red

    Is it not possible to build a miniature V-22 like drone, that can fly up like a helicopter, and then horizontally like an airplane? Have the benefit of an airplane-like drone with the benefit of fitting into small takeoff spaces.

    • d. kellogg


      Even looks good in USCG colors.

      • blight_

        Wow, pretty prototype. Only 200 pd payload though. Scale it up some more and we’ll be set!

    • JCitizen

      You mean like this?

      This flying gyrochopper is designed to fly at close to 235 mph by slowing the blade props to increase speed. I imagine that regenerated energy could be used to realize more thrust for the pusher prop. Check out the instant hops this thing can do with two pilots on board - imagine what it could do unmanned?

  • JSam77

    Sikorsky is working on a compound helicopter design called the Raider. It has a co-axial rotor with a prop pusher on the back. I wonder if they could scale it down to a UAV? It would give you VTOL plus the flight characteristics of a prop plane. It also has tremendous lift capability, if Sikorsky’s numbers are accurate.

  • oblat

    Yes because the future of the US navy is ferries armed with model airplanes.

  • dennisbuller

    Helicopter based UAV’s don’t have the range. The ocean is a big place.
    What they need is a UAV that uses electric powered props to go vertical and then transition to a direct drive prop for long range loitering.
    The Navy also needs “strap on the side” boat UAV’s to counteract small Boat attacks and to better their carrier coverage against subs, aircraft and other ships.
    Imagine a destroyer that carried six boat UAV’s. Each having heavy machine guns and then having a specific job. Two as radar extensions (with antiaircraft missiles); two for anti-sub (placing sonar probes and anti-sub torpedo) and two that had anti-ship armaments (anti-ship missile.)
    Between the air and sea based UAV’s you could triple the coverage area against all threats.

    • blight_

      Depends on what you want the UAVs for.

      If you are intending to use them for spotting threats ahead of the LCS, which is in turn ahead of the fleet, it may not be too bad. A good maritime scout aircraft will probably be bigger than what can be launched from an LCS: in which case it should be some kind of STOL UAV that can be launched from a LHA/LPD or a CVN. Or a teleoperated maritime patrol aircraft.

      We’re at a point that we need pragmatic deliverables, not tiltrotor UAVs. We’ve paid in blood to get the V-22’s working, so a teleoperated V-22 might work (or the lighter Ba-609?)

      • FormerDirtDart

        Or further develop the Bell Eagle Eye/HV-911

      • DennisBuller

        I see UAV’s as extenders of the ship platform.
        Ships can have huge, heavy, powerful equipment to do specific jobs.
        What a ship cannot do is be in more than one place at a time. Or fly a hundred miles away.
        The carrier is there for air supremacy.
        So I see UAV’s assisting the destroyer/cruiser in their base roles. Antisub, anti-aircraft and anti-small boat/ship. In other words, picket duty.
        The one role I do not see UAV’s helping ships with is shore bombardment. Too heavy a role.

  • BlackOwl18E

    Scan Eagle.

    • FormerDirtDart

      And how exactly is a 40 lbs Scan Eagle going to carry a 600 lbs sensor package, while flying 600-900 nmi to get to a target area??

      Perhaps you should read the article. Or, you can just suggest a F/A-18F is the optimal platform for this mission.

      • BlackOwl18E

        Your right actually. I didn’t read the article this time. I just looked at the title and immediately thought that the Scan Eagle would be compatible with the LCS.

        600lbs? That’s not much. I’m sure we’ll figure it out.

  • Big-Dean

    For everyone dreaming about the great aviation possibilities, but sure to keep in mind that this “ship?” pitches like a bronco even in calm seas (watch an video).It’s got stability problems so a large flight deck is only so useful. Secondly, it will not do 50 knots once it’s loaded up with real stuff. Ever wonder why they always do their high speed test with an empty ship? Put a couple of helos on and a full load out of fuel and supplies and this thing might do 35 knots if it’s lucky

  • d. kellogg

    If they want to do forward air picket duty, and targetting telemetry over-the-hozon from the ship (which we should be committing othe assets to anyway),
    then why not tethered aerostats with an AESA system like the SABR and/or other EO systems?

    For the price the USN is ending up paying for an LCS and its modules, and the looming implication they desire the capabilities of an Aegis Burke in a frigate-sized hull, they shoulda just license-built Spanish F100s.

    • blight_

      It’s not about shoehorning DDG into FFG hulls…it’s about niches that an DDG is too expensive for.

      I just wish the Navy had said “you know, we don’t really know what works best, so we’ll buy off-the-shelf, figure out what we wish we could’ve had and build our own in a few years”.

      We had PC Cyclones, a huge gap and then the FFG’s, and then DDG’s. I get the feeling LCS was meant to fit the space between PC’s and the FFG, but…

  • ketr

    Are the chinese already trying to steal the tech?

    • blight_

      They can probably build better small boats and corvettes than we can. China and South Korea have good experience building civilian-grade ships…

    • Vpanoptes

      If you mean the LCS tech, they’re probably too smart for that.

      • blight_

        What’s to steal? The hull form? The engines?

        There’s not much fancy about LCS. You want the doodads that are supposed to some day come with it, not the barebones hull.

  • Beno


    Not currenty a UAV, but currently under development by Augusta Westland ( where the Royal Navy gets its helo’s )
    Interestly the RN have a requirement out for something very similar for the new Type 26 Global Combat Ship

    Ill let you guys deside if we think there is a link ?

  • ohwilleke

    Why not sacrifice a bit of the rough seas capability and get a drone seaplane with retractable wings that can be lifted with a winch into and out of the LCS?

  • TonyC

    The LCS flight deck is aluminum, so jet exhaust will be a big problem for it.
    The only viable UAV will be catapaulted in to the air, but landing is another issue.
    The net idea may be useful on the LCS or have a UAV that lands on water and is hoisted aboard. There are very practical problems to be solved in this endeavor.

    • blight_

      UAV with floats? Hmm.

      It’ll work best on calmer waters, and in wartime you expect to lose a few unmanned units aways, so they might have to be treated as single-use at rougher sea states.

    • ohwilleke

      Why not launch the UAV like a glider using the SH-60 on board and then retrieve it in a Mid-Air Recovery with the SH-60 like the Lightening Bug and Firebee drones were during Vietnam? Improved flight control systems for modern drones would make retrieval much easier.

  • demophilus

    The Bert Rutan Scaled Composites/Freewing Scorpion might be scaled up for this application, but it would be a real stretch. A blended wing/body design like the Swift Killer Bee might work too, if it could fly very near to stall at a high AoA. But the real problem is going to be recovery, either in any kind of sea state, or with the kind of sudden gusts you get at sea level. Those factors, plus the payload specs, would drive this towards something with a rotor.

  • Dick Spivey
  • Brian W
  • John M. Lawrence

    I recently patented in the US and Canada a new type of VTOL aircraft which offers a high-efficiency cruise. Please see tiltplane.com. I graduated from Webb institute in 1964 and am now retired, but I would love to work with anyone who might want to propose using a tiltplane for this mission. I have three BASIC programs written by Ray Prouty which correspond to the three fight modes: hover, transition, and cruise. A typical tiltplane can easily have a lift/drag ratio of 19.5:1 at 200 knots. The top speed can easily be 300 knots.

    • Brian
    • Brian
  • jlawren3

    Oops. I do not think that battery power is capable of providing the power needed for several hours of tiltplane operation. I have not yet selected an internal combustion engine which should be suitable. Does anyone know of a small engine that they would recommend?

  • Dan Costello

    A drone disguised as a butterfly - using its wings as solar panels - could remain in the air indefinitely- may be the answer to refueling