Home » Aviation » Compromise Defense Bill Restricts Navy UCLASS Funds

Compromise Defense Bill Restricts Navy UCLASS Funds

X-47B tail number 501 flies over USS Theodore Roosevelt on Aug. 17, 2014. US Naval Institute Photo

X-47B tail number 501 flies over USS Theodore Roosevelt on Aug. 17, 2014. US Naval Institute Photo

The 2015 compromise defense bill, released on Wednesday, imposes restrictions on funding for the Navy’s planned production carrier-launched unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over concerns the platform would lack sufficient stealth, survivability and weapons payload, according to the bill’s language.

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would restrict Navy spending on the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program until the completion of a Pentagon review of its entire information, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) portfolio and those results were reported back to Congress.

The Navy’s FY 2015 budget submission included $403 million to further develop the UCLASS program.

The bill — which is expected to pass both the Senate and the House — also directs the Secretary of the Navy to submit a report to Congress on how the Navy decided on the most recently stated set of requirements for UCLASS through the prism of the emerging anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) threats the military has touted as a dangerous limitation to U.S. forces and future capabilities of a carrier strike group (CSG) in 2030.

The study — to be included in the FY 2017 budget submission — will require the Navy to outline its plan for how the UCLASS would work with the Navy’s EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, the F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and the planned next generation F/A-XX naval fighter.

“I am very encouraged by the conference outcome on the UCLASS program. The OSD study… will not just force a second look at requirements for this platform, but also take a broader look at our plans for the carrier air wing in the 2030 time period,” Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee told USNI News on Wednesday.
“We need to be measuring these programs twice and cutting only once when it comes to important new investments that we will be relying on to project power in the contested environments of the future.”

The report will also require the Navy to provide an UCLASS acquisition strategy, program costs and schedule information to Congress.

The language in the compromise bill follows up on more than a year of tumult over the character of UCLASS — or the RAQ-25 as USNI News understands the program is being referred to inside the Navy.

The service has pitched an UCLASS with an emphasis on surveillance and light strike in the last two years — a change from a stealthy UAV capable of penetrating strikes with a payload equivalent to the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

“The Navy may have made an appropriate set of trade-offs between costs and capabilities in deriving a set of requirements for UCLASS, but those trade-offs should be evaluated in the context of the overall CSG capability, not on the basis of individual capabilities of weapons systems or an unconstrained budget,” according to a report from the bill.

An earlier House report found, “disproportionate emphasis in the requirements on unrefueled endurance to enable continuous intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) support to the carrier strike group (CSG), would result in an aircraft with too little survivability and too small an internal weapons payload capability.”

In August, the final request for proposal (RfP) for UCLASS — planned to be released to industry in September — was delayed indefinitely while the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) undertook the comprehensive ISR review that will be folded into the Pentagon budget process for Fiscal Year 2016.

Four companies — Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Atomics — have all won early contracts to develop the UCLASS concept and were expected to respond to the RfP.

The Navy expects to field UCLASS by 2020.

  • R’ Yitzchak M

    UCLASS program is the answer F-35 is THE PROBLEM. Superhornets and Growlers are the answer in combination with the UCLASS to saturate and overwhelm the enemy. With the first CRITICAL minutes of engagement X-47Bs could pinpoint nerve centers of AA Defense and damage or at least “occupy” them forcing them to turn on their AA assets so at least to open target rich environment for Superhornets and Growlers.

  • Jack Lawrence

    Sounds like somebody’s contractor wants a better spot at the trough.

  • Secundius

    A short lived career for the Navy’s Fo-Fighter Program. I wonder how much this Nowhere project cost the American Taxpayer’s…

    • Jack Lawrence

      Future fighter program.
      No way around it.

  • Rob C.

    There some mismanagement somewhere, but the program is still alive. I would prefer a F/A-XX verse UCLASS, even if means putting pilots endanger. I served, i understand risk of military serving my country. I’m no luddie, but I simply don’t want have a vehicle that has any possiblity of being compromised. Easy button leads to bad things. Remote control warfare is one of those. I hope they’re given enough time to get their acts together decide what this thing suppose to be doing. Escorting? Light Strikes? Recon? or replacing manned machines.

    • Jack Lawrence

      All of the above.
      You gotta fly one first.

  • Taxpayer71

    It is not clear whether the OSD led review of the UCLASS
    requirements in the context of the entire DoD ISR portfolio is an exercise in
    OSD “wet thumb” judgement or an objective analysis of alternative ISR
    mixes and their respective performance, costs, an contributions to overall mission effectiveness. If
    the endeavor is focused only on ISR, what criteria are used in the
    evaluation/review? More ISR does not
    necessarily lead to mission effectiveness.
    Any analysis of UCLASS needs to address its value in overall mission effectiveness
    in the Anti-Access/Area Denial context.
    This would include not only ISR, but aerial refueling, survivability,
    weapons targeting, weapons delivery and damage assessment.

  • Marjus Plaku

    Wow, Congress doing a better job than NAVAIR in selecting requirements for this thing. I don’t know, what IS wrong with a recon/strike high end UCAV versus the lite version that the Navy seemed to want? Even if it takes longer to develop, it is worth it. Nobody will have anything like that when it comes online.

    • AD

      $ and intrusion into the next gen Navy fighter space.

  • James B.

    Please, pick a task! We really shouldn’t be making multi-role messes out of our drones, we’ve already spent enough making those mistakes with our manned programs like the JSF.

    If the drones are supposed to be for surveillance, they should probably look like Predators, with long duration but low payload.

    Drones for bombing should probably look like flying wings, like miniature B-2s.

    Drones for air-to-air should be little darts to fly high and fast, like F-5 Tigers.

    All aircraft are compromises between their various missions, drones only eliminate the mission of carrying a pilot.