SAN DIEGO, CALIF. – The first operational unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to be used on the Navy’s aircraft carriers needs to be developed with a “joint perspective,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work said during a Keynote speech at WEST 2015 on Tuesday.
He said that perspective necessitated the pause in the release of the request (RFP) for proposal for the air segment of the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) – or RAQ-25 as USNI News understands it’s known inside the service.
“We decided this year we were almost ready to launch the RFP but we decided to take a pause because we want to consider the UCLASS as part of the joint family of unmanned surveillance and strike systems and make sure that we’re going after the right capabilities,” Work said.
“In addition to looking at capabilities that we already have and using them differently, we’re going to make sure in this environment, that when we go after a new platform, it’s the platform that we need from a joint perspective.”
The pause is the direct result of an ongoing comprehensive information, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) UAV review of the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD), the Navy said last week.
Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) has pitched UCLASS as an UAV that would operate during the downtime of a carrier air wing as a lightly armed and high endurance aircraft focused primarily on ISR for the carrier strike group (CSG).
A previous concept called for a low observable and heavily armed aircraft capable of penetrating enemy air defense networks with a payload equivalent to a F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter.
As to what capabilities a joint perspective would bring to UCLASS capabilities are unclear. Critics outside the service of the last discussed UCLASS concept have said the ISR capabilities of the Navy’s version of UCLASS would be redundant to capabilities of other ISR platforms coming online like the Boeing P-8A Poseidon and the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton high altitude UAV.
Meanwhile, the service said it plans to issue the air segment RFP sometime next year. It’s too early to say if the RFP will be an open competition or issued directly to companies that have done previous UCLASS development work – General Atomics, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.
As a result of the pause, the service said it would push the initial operating date for UCLASS from 2020 to 2022 or 2023.