Sea Platforms

Budget concerns hold up UCLASS RfP public release

19 September 2014
A system based on Northrop Grumman's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator (UCAS-D) is one option for the USN's UCLASS programme. Source: USN

Key Points

  • The DoD is carefully considering how much funding to allocate for UCLASS before allowing the navy to solicit bids for the effort.
  • The USN has reportedly been studying two UCLASS alternatives-a smaller, more affordable ISR asset and a larger, heavily-armed vehicle capable penetrating advanced air defences.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) is carefully considering how much funding it will allocate to the US Navy's (USN's) Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system before it publicly opens a competition for the new programme, the department's acquisition chief said in early September.

Asked why the department has delayed release of a UCLASS Request for Proposal (RfP), Frank Kendall, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said cost concerns are responsible for the planning slowdown.

"It's driven by the uncertainty about our future budget and about affordability concerns," Kendall said at a defence conference in Washington. "We're looking at all the things the [navy] may not have made provisions for. Affordability is a major concern for us right now, and any new start is going to be done very carefully, the UCLASS is a new start."

Kendall added that officials: "want to be reasonably confident that we are going to be able to actually do that programme, and afford it" before soliciting bids from industry.

NAVAIR did release a series of RfPs directly to the four competitors for the programme: Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. The details of those documents are not publicly known.

The USN has reportedly been studying two UCLASS plans - a lightly armed surveillance aircraft and a larger, stealthy and well-armed vehicle capable of navigating through contested environments.

The programme was first envisioned in 2006 as a long-endurance aircraft carrying both intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors and weapons. That vision led to the Northrop Grumman X-47B UCAS-Demonstrator (UCAS-D). However, budget constraints have since then forced the navy to look at a less ambitious option for a smaller carrier-based ISR asset.

The second concept emerged last year as the one favoured by the USN's leadership, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), and the Pentagon's Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC).

However, an August review of the programme by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, who co-authored a 2008 White Paper that favoured a heavily armed and armoured UCLASS, was expected to be the final phase of DoD study before public release of an RfP.

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