Home » Aviation » WEST: NAVAIR’s Unmanned Aerial Tanker Acquisition Will Be Leaner Than Previous UCLASS Effort


WEST: NAVAIR’s Unmanned Aerial Tanker Acquisition Will Be Leaner Than Previous UCLASS Effort

X-47B conducts its first night flight April 10 over Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. on April, 10 2014. US Navy Photo

X-47B conducts its first night flight April 10 over Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. on April, 10 2014. US Navy Photo

SAN DIEGO — The head of Naval Air Systems Command said the effort to build the Navy’s first unmanned aerial vehicle to operate with the carrier air wing would be a leaner process than what was planned for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program.

NAVAIR’s Vice Adm. Paul Grosklags said the pursuit of the RAQ-25 UAV – currently dubbed the Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System (CBARS) – would take the work from the UCLASS acquisition and streamline the process – one burdened with a high level of requirements churn to industry.

“We end up giving to industry, giving to you all a specification — a statement of work — that literally contains thousands of shall statements. And every one of those shall statements is of equal importance because if you don’t comply with it you’re not complying with the terms of the contract. Thousands of them,” Grosklags said at the WEST conference on Thursday.
“What we’re doing with RAQ-25 is we’ve taken those thousands of shall statements down to a couple of hundred. We’re streamlining the team. We’re taking the typical hundreds of NAVAIR folks that would be working on a program like that and bringing it down to dozens. That is the culture change that we’re trying to get to with inside NAVAIR.”

The Fiscal Year 2017 budget request includes an $84 million line item for CBARS but will also build off of $434 million in future unmanned carrier aviation money that was included into the FY 2016 Omnibus bill, Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, told USNI News in a Wednesday interview.

“So UCLASS doesn’t exist but the CBARS will be able to draw that money. That’s why in one reason in ‘17 we didn’t ask for a whole lot more,” Mulloy said.
“Basically we view it as forward financing to back to the competitors again and actually start descoping their projects and submit something fast.”

Mulloy said the Navy was patching together a submission to the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) that amounted to an 80-percent solution for the initial UCLASS design.

“We’re probably going to drop some of the high-end specs and try to grow the class and increase the survivability [later],” Mulloy said.
“It has to be more refueling, a little bit of ISR, weapons later and focus on its ability to be the flying truck.”

CBARS (“we’re not real enamored [by the name]”, Mulloy said) will build off the UCLASS work for the control station and the connectivity piece of the RAQ-25 effort.

“Two of the parts remain mostly the same – carrier integration and command and control – because we still have to talk to the air vehicle,” Mulloy said.
“Those two will remain the same and will support us in any other unmanned vehicle going ahead.”

Mulloy said the mid-2020s fielding plan for the RAQ-25 would run into the development work for the replacement of Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet – the Navy’s F/A-XX program. Developed in conjunction with the U.S. Air Force’s F-X program, both services are considering optionally manned options to replace the capability.

If an unmanned variant of the Super Hornet follow-on were created it would leverage the work from the control station and connectivity piece from RAQ-25.

Later this year, pending JROC approval, the Navy is set to release a draft request for proposal to the four original UCLASS competitors – Northrop Grumman, Boeing, General Atomics and Lockheed Martin – for the RAQ-25 air segment with the final RfP set to be issued in 2017 and an anticipated contract award in 2018.

  • Marjus

    It’s all well and good to tout the lets get it out there and have it be a tanker/truck mentality, even though an additional 10 years is still way too long. But everyone knows that you’re still going to have to design a new body/aircraft for the strike role. A B-2 and a KC-135 are not exactly the same. So we’ll be lucky if we get a naval strike drone before 2035. Which is a real shame because I am firmly convinced the main hang ups are the will/attitude/culture of the Navy and not technical or monetary. You can’t really replace the risk taking, deep penetration/loitering, ISR and sortie rates of an armed drone via aerial refueled Hornets and long range strike missiles. You can compensate for some of that new capability the drone would have brought, but not all.

    We also don’t stay ahead of the threat curve by playing it safe and taking baby steps. If one considers the improvements and increased capability of enemy air defenses, strike missiles and ISR in the last 15 years, you shudder to think what our forces will face in the next 15.

    • CuddlyCobra

      Taking big leaps is what got us a $13 billion carrier and all the issues with the still not truly combat functional but most expensive weapons program in hiatory with the F-35.

      Take a look at the future budget projections for the Navy shipbuilding and airwings. They are VERY bad. Maintenance funding/support are already iffy.

      The DC bureaucrats are doing fine though.

      • sferrin

        The F-35 is “the most expensive weapons program in history” because, why WOULDN’T it be? What other program should be “the most expensive weapons program in history”? A tank? A new gun? The F-35 is a program to replace THOUSANDS of F-16s, F/A-18s, and Harriers. If not the F-35 then what program should be at the top of the “expensive” list?

        (No takers I guess. Shocker.)

  • StealthFlyer

    I’d still like to see the CBARS be low observable so the drone tankers can’t be targeted from hundreds of miles away or give away an F-35 strike package a long way out. Not full, super expensive, all-aspect stealth, but use an airframe shape (where you get 90% of the stealth) that allows it to get much closer to hostile airspace than the huge KC-10s and KC-135s. Some RAM coating can be added later, if needed, for special missions, including its secondary ISR role.

    • James B.

      Agree. Hopefully they can just build it mostly out of fiberglass and carbon fiber, and leave space/weight to install radar-angling surfaces on the essential metal parts in the future.

  • Taxpayer71

    It will be interesting to see if the requirements for CBAS address a capability to operate when the force is operating in EMCON. Against even a less-than-high-end adversary, communications and data link RF signals emanating from the carrier for launch, recovery, and operations of a CBAS offer the enemy a lucrative way to passively detect and target the force. I wonder how the CNA study of carrier-based tanking alternatives addressed this factor.

    • Michael Nunez

      Very Good .

    • James B.

      Laser communications and other optical signals shouldn’t be too hard.

  • Eric Fallabel

    Mulloy is correct that “CBARS” is a mediocre acronym. I propose Sea-Launched Unmanned Refueling Platform (SLURP). When strike aircraft get behind it to refuel, they get a SLURP of gas.

    • El_Sid

      I always thought the RAF missed a bit of a trick with Voyager. Given that their previous tankers had been V’s (as had the USN with Viking), they could have been inserting their probes into a Venus.
      SLURP’s not bad as a project name though.

  • vegass04 .

    This is a big disappointment.. Refueling was the last thing carrier air wing lacked. I just hope they’ll invest in secure data transmission, that would be the only benefit from this system.

  • Michael D. Woods

    “Leaner” is it? We have got to get these people out of office and elect people who will either keep us out of foreign lands or pay the price for being in. These guys are just beating up the equipment and personnel while cheaping out on force recovery.

  • @USS_Fallujah

    Having some growth to strike capability will be key to getting OSD & H/SASC support, but keeping the initial requirements as few as possible will be key to getting this onto decks in a reasonable timeframe and actually getting funding friom H/SAC-D. I’m hoping for large flying wing design with ample internal fuel stores (and external tanks) thus inherent low observability profile in place of a full stealth option. You’d have an accompanying tanker option that can be expanded into ISR roles and then as a long range flying magazine for it’s more stealth manned counterparts. It could also act as a extended range CAP for the CBG carrying a large number of A2A missiles that can be targeted from the E-2D at ranges well beyond what you could sustain CAP coverage with F-18s.

  • DVader

    The Navy has a disastrous habit of missing aerospace revolutions, and it looks like it intends to miss the UCAV one too.
    When will the Navy notice that in an A2/AD environment (like WestPac is becoming, hint hint) it needs a long-range, stealthy strike platform with a large weapons capacity?