The final request for proposal (RFP) for the Navy’s planned carrier-based unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has been delayed pending a review of the service’s information, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) portfolio as part of the service’s budget process this fall, Navy officials told USNI News on Friday afternoon.
“Defense officials will be including [Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS)] in its ISR portfolio review to be conducted in conjunction with the normal budget review process this fall,” Cmdr. Thurraya S. Kent, spokeswoman for assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Sean Stackley, said in a statement provided to USNI News.
“Determination regarding the release of the UCLASS RFP will be made based on the results of this review.”
The move from the service also likely puts off a planned Sept. 10 meeting of the Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) — led by vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld — that would have put a final stamp of approval ahead of the final UCLASS RFP.
The Navy’s decision to fold UCLASS into the budget process follows a Tuesday Pentagon meeting — overseen by Under Secretary of Defense Bob Work — to review the Navy’s current ISR intensive direction for UCLASS, several sources told USNI News.
Winnefeld was not at the Tuesday review, several sources told USNI News. When contacted, a spokesman for Winnefeld would not comment on the meeting.
On Aug. 17, Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR) Rear Adm. Mat Winter — Program Executive Officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons (PEO U&W) officials told reporters NAVAIR was “on the precipice,” of releasing the UCLASS RFP.
The Navy lumping UCLASS into the larger ISR asset review is the latest wrinkle in the ongoing and highly charged debate over the future character of UAVs in the carrier air wing.
Two distinct camps have emerged with one group advocating for an ISR intensive UCLASS to operate while the carrier air wing is at rest with a limited strike capability in permissive environments and potentially act as a badly needed aerial tanker for the air wing.
“UCLASS is not the next generation strike fighter. It’s not the next generation E2. It’s truly the first time we put an unmanned carrier asset into the carrier air wing but we know the capabilities that we’re looking for it to execute,” Winter said on Aug. 17.
A second group has called for a stealthy heavily armed UAV that would significantly extend the range of U.S. carriers beyond the current 450 nautical range of the current crop of manned strike aircraft.
“UCLASS must include a requirement for aerial refueling, survivability, lethality and payload to have enduring utility in tomorrow’s threat environment,” said Rep. Randy Forbes, chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee in a February letter to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.
Currently Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Atomics have been tapped by the Navy for development contracts ahead of the RFP.
The service plans to field UCLASS by 2020.