Home » Aviation » Unmanned CBARS Tanker Air Segment Draft RFP Expected Later This Year

Unmanned CBARS Tanker Air Segment Draft RFP Expected Later This Year

An artist’s conception of Boeing’s UCLASS offering taken as part of the company’s display at the U.S. Navy League 2015 Sea Air Space Exposition. US Naval Institute Photo

An artist’s conception of Boeing’s UCLASS offering taken as part of the company’s display at the U.S. Navy League 2015 Sea Air Space Exposition. US Naval Institute Photo

This post has been updated to include additional comments from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Naval Air Systems Command is set to release a new draft request for proposal for its unmanned aerial refueling tanker to industry later this year, USNI News has learned.

Built from the work of its Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program, the draft RfP for the air segment for the follow-on Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System (CBARS) will come out ahead of the a final RfP in FY 2017 and a contract award in FY 2018, according to several sources familiar with the program.

NAVAIR will oversee the continuing development of the control system and connectivity efforts of the RAQ-25 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program — the original Navy designation for UCLASS that will carry over to CBARS, Rear Adm. William Lescher, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget said in a Tuesday afternoon briefing at the Pentagon.

The Navy expects to field CBARS in the 2020s.

Spokeswoman Jamie Cosgrove confirmed to USNI News NAVAIR will be the “lead systems integrator” for the connectivity and control system and referred questions on the air segment to the Office of Secretary of Defense.

“No decision has been made at this time,” OSD spokesman Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Badger told USNI on Thursday. Badger said the Navy has yet to present its CBARS acquisition strategy to the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer Frank Kendall.

During Lecher’s presentation on Tuesday the service outlined the shift in the program from in primary mission of the aircraft from a lightly armed, information, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) unmanned aerial vehicle that would orbit around the carrier strike group into primarily an aerial refueling tanker.

“I would cite as the main difference was penetrating strike, non-permissive ISR. So it was a much more aggressive increment of capability just to get that platform at the same time as that was going to be the platform to develop the learning of how to operate unmanned off-the-carrier big deck,” he said.
“The real value of this restructure is that it incrementally gets at the manned/unmanned interface and operation on the carrier deck in the air wing by the mid-20s… It’s a smart acquisition approach to incrementally burn down that risk and then, as I mentioned, we’ll continue to look at developing additional capability.”

Lescher added that CBARS would also retain a limited strike capability in addition to an ISR role for the carrier. Service officials told USNI News the three-part plan for developing RAQ-25 – divided between an the control system, the connectivity piece and the actual airframe – sets a path to use the same control systems and data links but with more sophisticated aircraft to follow after CBARS. The original UCLASS work for the control systems and the connectivity piece will remain unchanged.

The X-47B on the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) on Nov. 10, 2013. US Navy Photo

The X-47B on the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) on Nov. 10, 2013. US Navy Photo

The new direction for carrier UAVs was born from a Pentagon-wide strategic program review – led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work — that evaluated the entire Department of Defense ISR portfolios and stalled the release for the RfP for the then-UCLASS program. The results of the SPR led to the program restructure by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the Navy for the FY 2017 budget submission.

Prior to the SPR, the Navy was set to release a RfP only to four companies – Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman – for the UCLASS air segment amidst intense congressional scrutiny over the direction of the airframe.

House Armed Services seapower and projection forces Subcommittee chair Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Senate Armed Services Committee chair Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) both made calls for the Navy to invest more into creating a low-observable UAV that would strike deep into contested airspace.

“Developing a new carrier-based unmanned aircraft that is primarily an ISR platform and unable to operate effectively in medium- to high –level threat environments would be operationally and strategically misguided,” McCain wrote in March.

The UCLASS program itself was an adaptation of the Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) that the Navy was directed to pursue as part of the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).

UCAS was proposed to be a deep strike unmanned system with characteristics of a stealth aircraft that could strike deep into an adversary’s territory at ranges that could not be matched by current manned strike aircraft.

The program was shifted to UCLASS to emphasize a counterterrorism mission in 2011.

A pair of Northrop Grumman X-47B UCAS-Demonstrator aircraft – built with stealth characteristics – were used by NAVAIR to conduct the first carrier landing of a UAV in 2013.

  • @USS_Fallujah

    The Navy will likely get what they want on this, partially because it does make sense, also because it fills a gap congress has been complaining about for years, third because it helps solve another problem (overuse of F-18 airframe hours), but mostly because congress is going to be so tired from beating Maybus & the CNO over the head about CG modernization, LCS/FFE & the Air Wing deactivation they’ll let this go unchallenged.

  • I want this no that and we get another.


    It makes sense to start with the easiest mission first, and that is the tanker. Benign environment, non-stealth air frame, easy mission profile, no real sensor integration. Shoot, it will mostly be line of sight. If you develop and standardize the control system, you can use it on each follow-on airframe that adds the ISR or Semi-Autonomous Strike capability you want. Finally, you are not goring any oxen as the fighter guys don’t want to do the tanking mission anyway!

    If you want to guarantee failure, start with a stealthy air frame, semi-autonomous control system able to work in a GPS/communications denied environment, extensive sensor integration, and with the biggest officer group in the Navy (pilots, specifically strike fighter pilots) whose oxen is being gored. What could go possibly go wrong with that scenario?

  • b2

    The budding cliché “easiest mission first” is bunk and I am afraid that it may be the approved thought process going forward. I think you may mean it will be less of a mission integration problem (and $$) for the end state weapon system perhaps?

    Carrier organic tanking is not mission tanking. There is a significant difference not readily understood by non-carrier aviation and leadership. A carrier based refueling aircraft must first and foremost handle like a tactical aircraft and be maneuverable at low attitudes and in all weathers. it must be able to rendezvous on aircraft that are slow and dirty, or travelling several hundred knots, and quickly. Flying that mission of overhead tanking requires mucho airmanship, an undefined quality that cannot be written into software code easily (IMO).

    I am reminded of an event that happened 650 nm north of Guam off Stennis in 2007. Two legacy Hornets had a midair, were damaged and both needed to divert. Only the S-3 tanker could get slow enough to affect a rendezvous near mother and pump gas into the Hornet with it’s gear down and only the S-3 could accompany the Hornet all the way to Guam. refuel and then go back out to accompany the second wounded Hornet into Guam. The Rhino tankers involved shuttled fuel only. Bottom line is, I saw a picture of those pilots celebrating at the club, post event. Airmanship was written all over their faces. Can a machine do that? The alternative was splash two Hornets. Think about it. This ain’t an unimportant or “easy” mission and every bit as essential as the plane guard helo. Maybe more so.

    With the new requirement this UCLAS vehicle will be relatively huge compared to UCAV and must have growth potential for ISR and weapons? Based on what I’ve seen- this is 15 years away at least to IOC and will end up costing $ Mucho M each, eating into the next gen manned/unmanned fighter $$….It will also evolve/devolve when exposed to the political winds….

    If they are serious about this, why not use the S-3’s at AMARG as the vehicle? It meets or exceeds all the requirement(s) except stealth (is that requirement still valid?), will cost nothing except refurbishment, has 20-30 years of life left unmanned, and is a known quantity to land safely aboard the carrier in every environment. Not sexy, 50 state or defense vendor friendly……Define it as the vehicle up front in the RFP.

    If you close your eyes and visualize what you think a carrier based unmanned vehicle should look like (BAMS, Predator, Reaper, UCAV, etc.) and then open them and consider something that actually works, consider the S-3 as the vehicle. Plus, it can carry heavy long range AS weapons without development costs that can actually sink ships and be carried back to the ship and recovered aboard; bomb bays for torpedoes and sonobouys too, if one wants to go there…
    Flexibility built in. Unmanned swiss army knife- ready made.

    • DefTactics

      I could not agree more on the S3. The need for stealth in the refueling Ops is minimal,unless in contested air space.Maybe add a jamming pod if applicall . Saves money and lightnes up the pressure on the F 18s.Now the Navy needs to finally address the CAP problem with the sixth generation fighter that has been missing since the retiring of the F 14 Tomcats !

    • Taxpayer71

      B2 makes a solid case for carrier based “mission tanking” and the need for capabilities that can effectively support wartime air group operations against a high end enemy in which battle damage is a reality. Moreover, no one is talking about the communications and data link signals required to haunch, recover, and operate a CBAS. In a high end conflict does the Navy really want a CBAS force that requires the carrier to transmit signals and reveal its presence and location?

      One might expect some competent analysis of carrier based tanking alternatives that address high end wartime realities. So far this looks like a solution driven by OSD transformational zeal rather than cold hard analysis of alternatives.

  • Taxpayer71

    CBARS final RFP in FY 2017, contract award in FY 2018, and fielding in the (probable mid to late) 2020s. Kind of late to relieve the load on the F/A-18.