Lawmakers Seek Broader Roles for UCLASS

X-47BSeveral lawmakers have written a letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, asking that the service to consider a broader scope of requirements and capabilities for its Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System, or UCLASS.

Congressman Randy Forbes, R-Va., Chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces and Congressman Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., ranking member of the Subcommittee co-authored the letter to Mabus. In the letter, the Congressmen asks Mabus to consider a wide range of mission possibilities for the UCLASS platform such that it becomes an “integral part of the Carrier Air Wing.”

There has been ongoing discussion and deliberations regarding the requirements, roles and potential mission sets for the future carrier-based drone. Some in the Pentagon, involved with the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, are advocating for a narrowly scripted intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR role for the platform.

Others, however, are calling for a broader range of capabilities to include stealth capabilities, weaponization and more extensive integration with the Carrier Air Wing.

“We believe the current path could limit the capability growth of the system in the future. We believe UCLASS should be designed to be an integral part of the CVW (Carrier Air Wing) that can employ in the full-spectrum of the Navy’s power-projection mission,” the letter states.

Along these lines, the letter asks Mabus to work with the UCLASS program to “draft a technology development request for proposal (RFP) that does not focus on just one particular key performance parameter, but enables competition and capability tradeoffs on a spectrum of attributes such as range, payload, survivability and affordability.”

A more broadly scoped set of missions will allow industry the flexibility to develop a range of solutions able to meet threshold requirements for the UCLASS in both the near-term and the longer term, the letter argues.

A big part of the argument of the letter seems to center around the importance of establishing broad requirements so that the platform can grow, change and evolve over time as technologies mature. Advocates for a wider-set of mission roles for the UCLASS platform argue that the core ISR function will not in any way be lost or lessened but rather added to with additional capability.

Navy officials indicated that the technology development RFP for the UCLASS program is still being drafted.

The technology development RFP follows an Aug. 14 contract wherein the Navy awarded four Preliminary Design Review deals for the UCLASS program.

The four $15 million firm-fixed price contracts were awarded to Boeing Co., General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Navy officials said in a written statement.

These preliminary contracts are designed to help industry understand the requirements for the platform, service officials added.

Forbes and McIntyre ask Mabus to provide the committee with a briefing of the content and evaluation criteria contained in the technology development RFP before it is sent to Mr. Frank Kendall, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

The UCLASS drone, to be operational by 2018 to 2020, promises to bring an as-of-yet unprecedented capability to the Navy by delivering a large, next-generation unmanned aircraft with a large wingspan and high-tech sensors to the deck on an aircraft carrier.

Being a first-of-its-kind capability, the UCLASS will bring long-dwell ISR capability over greater distances than existing aircraft – and provide an ISR presence without needing to land on a runway in a host country.

A spokeswomen for Mabus confirmed that he plans to respond to the lawmakers.

“The Secretary is appreciative of their interest in UCLASS and the future of our fleet, and he looks forward to responding to them,” Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence told in a written statement.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • GM1

    Here comes the billion-dollar uclass

  • Lance

    Hunter Killer robots coming soon.

  • hello

    Look at that beauty.

  • bobdobdob

    Lawmakers know what roles a brand new type of carrier based unmanned aircraft should be able to perform

  • hunter76

    Mass produce them. Make them cheap and in large numbers. Perfect the auto-landings and take-offs , and you can fly them from holes in disguised merchant ships. Pay for it all by getting rid of super carriers.


    Someone remind them that lawmakers aren’t engineers, or military generals. They create laws, and give the military money. STOP TRYING TO DO OTHER PEOPLE’S JOB!

  • LPF

    Hmmmm maybe I’m cynic , but I wonder hoe many of these congressmen, suddenly got a large campaign donation, from say manufacturers of drones

  • PolicyWonk

    In the letter, the Congressmen asks Mabus to consider a wide range of mission possibilities for the UCLASS platform such that it becomes an “integral part of the Carrier Air Wing.”
    While the above should belong in the department of “the blatantly obvious”, maybe it needs to be said, given the navy’s recent history.

    The US navy did, after all, create a new class of ships (Littoral Combat Ship), that intentionally wasn’t built to go into combat (the sea-frames aren’t even built to the same standard as a common fleet oiler) , while arming it with less punch (regardless of mission package) than any ship in its size class (world-wide), while costing more than any ship in its size class (added bonus).

    “Remember guys – we need you to design something that has the ability to fight alongside existing aircraft, and win wars (paraphrased)”

    That such a thing even needs to be said is disturbing, if not disgusting.

  • More capability, this it will bring. But it will also lower the coast of warfare. no one has to die in that plane. At least when our leaders give the go single they know they are sending one of our kids off to die if need be. These thing are the wave of the future. They are going to be built. But I fear what short sighted people will do and bring us (The U.S.) into when they can start a war so easy. And before someone gives their patriotic counter argument remember it will be my son and his best friend, your kid, out their following the orders this time around. Not some old retired sailor siting behind his computer.

  • jsallison

    Feh, figure out how to reload VLS arrays at sea. Without requiring sea state 0 and 0 knots. Better yet, design them so they *can* be reloaded underway. Forgot that little detail, huh?

  • I think that the Navy is doing just fine starting with a limited mission set. More missions, more money. Mission capabilities can be added later, or with newer upgrades and versions. Trying to make one platform do everything give you an F-35, DDG-1000, LCS,… and the list goes on.

  • hibeam

    I was hoping obvious experts like the admirals involved could decide what they need at sea but it’s not too surprising that these civilian experts on health care and the economy are also experts on military strategy.

  • Rob C.

    Sounds like US Congress members who want some money for their backers are trying push DoD into something their still deciding on if they should go forward doing. I rather US Navy and other armed forces sure that these flying wings are able to handle combat situation since the older Predator and Reaper aren’t able do anything but observe and assasinate.

  • Ron M.

    Perhaps unworkable, but imagine commissioning a supplementary, low-cost carrier platform designed solely around the requirements of UCLASS vehicles, including provision for greater wingspans and for storage of multiple smaller UCLASS vehicles for one-way trips.