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?

  • Joe Schmoe

    IAI Panther

    It’s already in use aboard ships.

  • EW3

    A small version of the MV-22.

    • UAVTOL
  • JE_McKellar

    How about a floatplane like the Kingfishers from WW2?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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?)

  • BlackOwl18E

    Scan Eagle.

  • 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.

  • ketr

    Are the chinese already trying to steal the tech?

  • 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.

  • 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