Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Congressional UCLASS

It’s not often that ComNavOps praises or defends Navy leadership but this is one of those moments.  I’ve posted that the Navy’s UAV/UCLASS/UCAV program is an example of a well run program (see, "The Navy's Best Run Program").  It is proceeding in reasonable steps which are providing progress and cost restraint simultaneously.  The program has not given in to PowerPoint hype and run-amok technology insertion.  The Navy has recently initiated the process of requesting proposals from industry for the next step in UCLASS development which will focus on surveillance (ISR) capabilities.  Unfortunately, this reasonable step has met with resistance from a Congress that appears to want a do-everything, stealthy, deep penetration strike UCLASS (Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike).

Rather than continue to develop the UCLASS in measured steps while exercising fiscal restraint and responsibility, Congress wants the Navy to once again try to leap a generation of technology.  You’ll recall that previous attempts to leap generations have given us the LCS, JSF, and Ford among other notable failures.

DoD Buzz website posted an article on the subject and summed the controversy up,

“The thrust of the debate centers around [whether] the platform can adapt over time or whether features like stealth and electronic attack need to be engineered into the original design at from the start. Forbes (ed.: Rep. Randy Forbes, chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee of the HASC) wants those capabilities from the beginning even though it will increase the drone’s initial price tag.”

Forbes recognizes the impact on cost of trying to leap ahead and yet wants to do it anyway.  History tells us with absolute certainty that such an effort will derail the steady progress of the program and result in a bloated, failed platform mired in cost overruns and schedule delays.

The subcommittee does raise one noteworthy point.  Language from the budget markup of the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Randy Forbes states,

“The disproportionate emphasis in the requirements on unrefueled endurance to enable continuous intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support to the carrier strike group, a capability need presumably satisfied by the planned acquisition of 68 MQ-4C Tritons ..."

There is a bit of an apparent duplication at work.  The two unmanned systems would seem to be filling the same niche.  Not having seen an operational concept for either of the systems I can’t evaluate the apparent duplication.  Perhaps they’re going to perform similar but different roles.  On the other hand, the Navy’s history of questionable decision making doesn’t exactly rule out a complete and unnecessary duplication!  A third alternative is that the Navy views the requested UCLASS as simply a developmental step intended to prove out integration in an air wing while still getting a degree of usefulness out of the aircraft.  If so, that would be a perfectly reasonable approach.  I haven’t seen any indication of the quantity of UCLASS aircraft the Navy wants.  If they only want a few, that would suggest they view it as a developmental step.  If they want dozens, that would suggest they view it as a finished product and would legitimize the duplication question.

The article goes on to state,

“While not willing to comment publicly on plans for stealth or low-observability for UCLASS, Navy program officials have consistently maintained that the program’s requirements do call for a weaponized strike platform as well as an ISR vehicle.  However, the weapons capability is something that is described as incremental, meaning it will be engineered into the platform over time, Navy officials explained.”

Again, this type of incremental approach is perfectly reasonable and ComNavOps just recently stated that the JSF should have been developed this way (see, "F/A-18 Hornet - An Evolultionary JSF?").

As I’ve stated before, the UCLASS program is a rare example of a well run program.  I would hate to see it become the flying LCS with lots of unattainable technology crammed in for no good reason.  Let’s be realistic.  UAVs are crashing constantly.  They’re not exactly a finished product, yet.  We don’t know what the real world difficulties of trying to operate UAVs over extremely long distances in an electromagnetically challenged environment are.  We don’t know what the real world difficulties of trying to operate an unmanned aircraft in and around a carrier are.  It would be foolish and fiscally unwise to attempt to leap ahead as Congress wants.  We need to walk for a while before we attempt an all-out sprint.  The Navy should bring a few UCLASS aircraft into an airwing and gain some operational experience and understand the technological difficulties before committing to the B-2 bomber version of UCLASS. 

Let’s not repeat the LCS fiasco.  Hold your ground, Navy.  ComNavOps stands with you on this one.


(1) http://www.dodbuzz.com/2014/07/10/pentagon-reviews-uclass-strike-capabilities/, DoD Buzz, Kris Osborn, "Pentagon Reviews UCLASS Strike Capabilities", 10-July-2014

37 comments:

  1. There is debate within the Navy, and OSD, about what the UCLASS should be. The situation with the UCLASS specification has a lot to do with perceived competition between it and F-35C. If UCLASS is enhanced to allow for long range penetrating strike, then the need for F-35C is diminished even further, perhaps even eliminated.

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    1. Charley, that's a very interesting perspective. Some within the Navy have claimed that the day one, deep penetrating mission is reserved for UAVs and Tomahawks. If so, the UCLASS would not be a direct competitor to the JSF. On the other hand, others claim the JSF is the day one penetrator which would make it a competitor, range notwithstanding.

      Great comment!

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  2. As far as overlap between MQ-4C and UCLASS, it should be fairly minimal. The MQ-4C is being procured and fitted to be an addition to the P-8 force for maritime patrol. UCLASS in in ISR role is being procured to be a CVN asset to patrol the general CVN area of operations. They are two pretty distinct roles.

    The P-8 and MQ-4C are used for general surveillance and interdiction over wide areas of ocean, generally independent of over naval assets but sharing intelligence.

    In contrast, UCLASS would be an organic carrier asset intricately tied to the carrier mission performing recon for the carrier assets and potentially fulfilling a long range strike role. Neither P-8 nor MQ-4C are particularly well suited for the carrier support role, not least because neither can land and refuel on the carriers. Add in that the carriers may/will be operating quite some distance from viable land based required for launch, recovery, and maintenance.

    As far as the desire to design in the strike/stealth capabilities, the reasoning from congress is that they probably don't want to fund a later development of an entirely different airframe for that with its associated costs. Personally, I don't think stealth or strike need nor should they be first stage design goals but the airframe should be designed with them in mind. IE, the airframe needs to be designed with internal weapons bays and with stealth shaping but doesn't need to go through the costs of fully testing the bays (and weapon compatibility) nor deal with stealth materials/coatings in the first tranche of planes.

    Its worth pointing out that all the proposed designs for UCLASS do have some level of stealth technology and contain some level of internal weapon bays.

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    1. ats, I'm not sure the question of overlap between the UCLASS and MQ-4C can be written off that easily. I think there's potentially a legitimate question to be asked. The MQ-4C is advertised as an ocean spanning surveillance unit. Surveillance is the same mission as the UCLASS (assuming it doesn't become the B-2 bomber). The Navy is ordering around 70 MQ-4Cs. Further, the Navy constantly touts the networked capability of its "family" of sensors (the family includes ship sensors, JSF, Hawkeye, MQ-4C, Poseidon, satellite, etc.). If the sensor network is the plan and if it works as the Navy claims it will, one can legitimately ask if the UCLASS might be redundant.

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    2. Regarding the incorporation of strike capability and stealth, if the Navy plans to order just a relative few, initially, to gain operational experience then adding strike/stealth later, even if it requires a complete new design, is no big deal and no big cost. On the other hand, if the Navy is planning to order dozens of UCLASS initially then the costs to retrofit strike/stealth later becomes much more of an issue.

      As I said, the attempt to incorporate too much technology right at the start is what led to the LCS and JSF failures. I fear the UCLASS is going to become JSF 2.0 or the LCS of the sky if all possible capabilities have to be crammed in up front before any lessons are learned.

      We have not yet mastered unmanned aerial refueling, airwing compatibility, deck handling, carrier vicinity operations, long distance control or any of the other aspects of operating a UCLASS from a carrier. Heck, we've barely scratched the surface! Trying to cram it full of technology before gaining any experience is exactly what happened with the LCS.

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    3. The problem with the MQ-4C is that it is still tied down to land bases and as such really can't support a CBG. The basic ISR mission that UCLASS will perform for a carrier will on its own use up the majority of the endurance of an MQ-4C which will give it little range to get to and from land. Now if the MQ-4 was carrier capable, you might have an argument, but the basic design of the MQ-4 would make it very hard to make carrier capable.

      Even if land distance wasn't an issue, it would require roughly 8 MQ-4C to be tasked per carrier which would basically take up all MQ-4s on order.

      UCLASS has a lot of flexibility because of its capability to land and take off from the carrier fleet that and MQ-4 simply can't replicate.

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    4. The issue is, if strike/stealth are completely removed from the RFQ, the equipment that will be bid will be completely different than if the strike/stealth requirement is in the RFQ but not part of the IOC. And if the equipment is completely different, you are going to see two separate rounds of R&D, prototyping, testing, procedures, etc. It will add a LOT of cost down the line. In short, I think you are widely off on what the costs would be of two entirely separate projects.

      Also I think you are greatly overestimating the cost to support at least strike capability in the design. All the existing designs for the original assumed ISR+Strike RFP, include the requisite technologies for strike. They all have internal ordnance bays. All that's really required for the first tranche is a viable ordnance bay, and that's not exactly new technology, but what it impacts is the initial designs for ISR will have to be designed to support the additional weight that would be in those ordinance bays. That's relatively simple engineering.

      As far as low signature technologies, we know most of those by now, all the bidders on the RFQ have already designed low signature airframes before. Several of the bidders have already designed in stealth from the get go.

      What is probably happening is lobbying from the various contenders trying to get the RFP to suit their current proposals better. Its currently believed that both Boeing and Lockheed have the significantly stealthier designs. GA probably has the cheapest design, but also the lowest payload and least stealthy. The current NG X-47B apparently isn't that stealthy and would require significant redesign for broadband stealth. Payloads for the various designs are all over the place.

      Its unlikely that the various vendors are going to drastically change their airframe designs so its likely the Navy just trying to make it so they can pick which ever one they want instead of actually having to do a real cost benefit analysis between the designs, the simpler the RFP, the easier it will be for the navy to justify its choice. There was already a large amount of issues surrounding the X-47B contract pretty much being a make work contract for NG since they had nothing else to work on and pretty much had to take all the software from the X-45 team to make the X-47B work.

      Also, it should be pointed out that all of your specific concerns are pretty much software issues and have little to do with the actual airframe. Also all the designs will largely share the same software base which was pretty much designed as part of Boeing's X-45 work and reused heavily by NG on the X-47. AKA, the strike/stealth capabilities have little impact on the actual work that needs to be done, its completely orthogonal.

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    5. The Navy can't have it both ways. If they make the claim that the MQ-4 provides complete ocean spanning coverage along with the web of networked sensors from the myriad of available platforms, then the need for the UCLASS could legitimately be questioned. If the MQ-4 and the networked sensors are not as capable as claimed then one has to question the MQ-4.

      As far as coverage for a carrier, there are only typically two carrier groups deployed at any given moment in peacetime. Certainly the MQ-4 and other assets could provide coverage. In war, we might field four carrier groups at any given moment. Still able to be covered. Recognize that I'm not arguing for or against the MQ-4 or UCLASS - just noting that a legitimate question can be raised about duplication. The answer depends on the exact concept of operations which the Navy has declined to share with any of us, assuming there even is one!

      Adding strike capability in the form of a single bomb is cheap. Turing the UCLASS into the unmanned B-2 bomber would be hideously expensive and that seems to be the route that Congress is suggesting.

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    6. MQ-4C and P-8 are primarily intended to provide different support than carrier ISR. They are designed to primarily perform wide ocean search and in the case of P-8 limited interdiction. The MQ-4 is designed to do continuous ocean sweeps and assist in S&R location when its in the area.

      As far as Strike, it doesn't need to be a B-2 bomber, but it likely needs the eventual capability to drop upwards of 4-6k lbs of ordnance and the capability to carry upwards of 2 2k bombs.

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    7. I disagree that the overlap between Triton and UCLASS will be minimal. UCLASS as currently envisioned is an ISR bird. Triton does ISR. Not being able to operate from the carrier is an advantage for Triton, because this frees up deck space for strikers and also you can design a better ISR bird if you are not constrained by the limits of carrier compatibility.

      Triton can absolutely support a CBG. It only takes two (or at most, three) Tritons to support a CBG, and there is no reason there could not be a Triton permanently dedicated to support each CBG. If we surged more CBGs in a wartime scenario, they would likely operate so closely together that one Triton orbit could support them all.

      The current NG X-47B apparently isn't that stealthy and would require significant redesign for broadband stealth.

      This is completely wrong. The X-47B is the most stealthy design and was designed from inception to have broadband stealth.

      The basic ISR mission that UCLASS will perform for a carrier will on its own use up the majority of the endurance of an MQ-4C which will give it little range to get to and from land.

      Are you serious? Based from Guam, Diego, or Sigonella, the MQ-4C would only spend a small fraction of its time in transit to support a forward CBG with a 24/7 orbit.

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    8. Another thing that has not been mentioned is the overlap between UCLASS and the MQ-8C Fire Scout. If you want to do surveillance and light strike around the CBG, this is the answer! Better yet, it can fly from a destroyer, and thus does not occupy space aboard the carrier.

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    9. Dexter, there is actually a quote out there on the X-47B from NG that it actually isn't that stealthy. I'll try to dig it up, but it did come directly from NG. The X-47B actually has several fundamental flaws for a broadband stealth shape, fyi.

      MQ-8C doesn't have the endurance for the mission required.

      The MQ-4C would use up close to or over half its endurance getting to and from a CBG in most cases. Not to mention that the MQ-4C is like a lighthouse beacon on radar.

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    10. there is actually a quote out there on the X-47B from NG that it actually isn't that stealthy.

      Um, because it is a demonstrator and LO was not part of the demo.

      The X-47B actually has several fundamental flaws for a broadband stealth shape, fyi.

      Nope.

      MQ-8C doesn't have the endurance for the mission required.

      What is the mission? If the mission is surveillance around the CBG, it most certainly can.

      The MQ-4C would use up close to or over half its endurance getting to and from a CBG in most cases.

      Bzzzt. Diego to Gulf of Oman, call it 2200nm, or 6 hours transit, so 16 hours on station. Guam to Taiwan, 1500nm, so 20 hours on station (and the CBG isn't even going to be that close.

      Not to mention that the MQ-4C is like a lighthouse beacon on radar.

      Oh, and things like the E-2 and F-18 aren't? Happily, the carrier has planes it can use to protect its ISR assets.

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    11. The X-47B has edges are are much to short for stealth against VHF radars, fyi. For an example of a UAV design for broadband stealth, look at the BAE Taranis design.

      The MQ-8C has cruising speed of 152 MPH. The requirement for the UCLASS ISR mission is 500 mile loops around the carrier, it would take an MQ-8C 6.6 hours just to get to distance and back and with a typical payload the MQ-8C only has an 11 hour endurance. It would take 5 MQ-8Cs per loop at a minimum assuming all the gear could fit within a 600lb payload. If the ISR gear required more then the MQ-8C likely couldn't even make it to distance and back.

      Diego to Gulf of Oman would require 12-13 hours total transit time for an MQ-4C. Time on station would be a maximum of 12 hours, with reality being less than that. You might be looking at data for the RQ-4B, but the MQ-4C is significantly heavier to support such things as de-icing, lightning protection, and a different sensor suite. It will also lose endurance in practice due to needing to dip below cloud cover for target identification purposes(the reason why it had wing changes, de-icing, and lightning protection added). So yes, realistically it is using up half its endurance just to get on station and back

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  3. My question has also been why jump into a program to design a new aircraft when the purpose of the program is to prove we can fly an unmanned vehicle from a carrier?

    Is there a reason why this could not have been a converted Hornet?

    At time when the navy is saying they need to deactivate ships because the budget is so tight, it comes across as a little extravagant, or am I missing something?

    Shouldn't we research what we need then built based on the result of that research?

    Mark

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    1. Mark, you're on the money and, until now, the program has been doing just that. They've utilized surrogate aircraft to work out the software control issues and they've obtained just a couple of aircraft for carrier compatibility testing. This is the fork in the road. We can either continued a measured, responsible program which will get us where we want to go or we can leap into the magic world of all-inclusive wonder technology (a B-2 bomber version of UCLASS) which will be come another LCS/JSF failure with massive cost overruns and schedule delays. I hope the Navy has learned some lessons but they've shown a remarkable ability to ignore lessons. We'll see.

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    2. It actually takes quite a bit of work to adapt something like an F/A-18 to fully autonomous operation.

      CNO, the programs have been using custom designs airframes and systems since the beginning of the J-UCAS project. The next UCLASS winner is almost assuredly going to be one of 3-4 designs that are already flying: Sea Avenger, Phantom Ray, X-47B/C, or the Lockheed entry. All the grumbling over the specs is really about which of the existing competitors will have the biggest advantage going in. Both the Phantom Ray and the Lockheed design have stealth built in from the ground up. AKA, a stealth requirement favors boeing/lockheed while a basic no-strike/no-stealth requirement heavily favors the x-47b.

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    3. why jump into a program to design a new aircraft when the purpose of the program is to prove we can fly an unmanned vehicle from a carrier?

      That is not the purpose of UCLASS, or at least it should not be, inasmuch as the Navy already proved it can fly an unmanned vehicle from a carrier -- it did so in the UCAS-D program with the X-47.

      Is there a reason why this could not have been a converted Hornet?

      No reason if all you want to do is demonstrate unmanned CV ops, but as I said that has already been demonstrated. In terms of military utility, "unmanning" an F-18 wouldn't get you all that much that I can see.

      They've utilized surrogate aircraft to work out the software control issues and they've obtained just a couple of aircraft for carrier compatibility testing.

      They have done so much more than this! They have actually done cats and traps with the X-47.

      We can either continued a measured, responsible program which will get us where we want to go

      A low-end UCLASS does not get us where we want to go.

      Both the Phantom Ray and the Lockheed design have stealth built in from the ground up. AKA, a stealth requirement favors boeing/lockheed while a basic no-strike/no-stealth requirement heavily favors the x-47b.

      No. The X-47B has stealth built in from the ground up. A stealth requirement favors Northrop. The LM design is less stealthy.

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    4. A) no one has even seen the LM design but we do know its being designed by the Skunkworks, I doubt it is less stealthy. And as I've already pointed out, the X-47B is much much less stealthy than you think, and its even been confirmed before in quote from NG.

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    5. Dexter, the UCAS work did not demonstrate carrier compatibility. It demonstrated a couple of specific tasks. The analogy would be taking a person raised in the woods and taking them to the city and showing them how to cross the street and then concluding that they now know how to live in the city. They would know one task. They wouldn't know the thousand other tasks that are required to actually live in the city.

      Similarly, the UCAS demonstrated a couple specific tasks. We do not know how to operate an unmanned aircraft as part of a carrier and its airwing. How will the UXXX's maintenance needs fit with the airwing's maintenance? How will the UXXX move through the deck and hangar on a routine basis? How will the UXXX fit into the flow of aircraft in the sky around the carrier? How will the UXXX comm and control needs mesh with a carrier operating in EMCON? Does the carrier have the comm bandwidth and capacity to control multiple UXXXs? How do we handle comm losses to a UXXX in terms of disruption of air ops? Is the UXXX with its longer mission cycles compatible with the carrier's normal launch/recover cycles? Given the lack of pilot feedback on performance, will we be able to adequately identify maintenance issues? And so on.

      We demonstrated a couple tasks in a very isolated and controlled scenario. We have no idea about how the UXXX will fit in and operate on a carrier.

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    6. ats & Dexter,

      You are both correct, from what I've read. The X-47B is designed with broadband stealth in mind, covering X-L bands.

      However, at VHF-band, apparently, the short-chord wing sections act as Raleigh scatterers, which impact its stealth performance.

      So some long-wave, VHF, "stealth detector" radars may pick up the X-47B. But shorter-wave search and fire control radars should still have trouble with it.

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    7. Or at least the X-47B is designed to cover X-S bands. (not sure about L)

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    8. IIRC, its X-S bands. Though when in that its more LO than stealth. They would have to go back and redo the skins/surfaces to get to a reasonable level of stealth.

      And yes, its basically none LO vs VHF which is where china and russia are concentrating future radar development. Best UAV vs VHF atm is the Taranis though the Phantom Ray is pretty close and we have no idea on the shape of the LM entry.

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    9. Dexter, the UCAS work did not demonstrate carrier compatibility.

      They wouldn't have let it on the carrier if it wasn't. And now you're moving the goalposts. Previously you said we need to prove we can fly UAS from the carrier (which UCAS did) -- now you want it to do a lot of other things. Fine. But since you're going to have to do all that good stuff anyway, why not do it with a UAS that doesn't suck? You don't have to have a piece of crap UAS to explore maintenance, move it around in the hangar (which they did in the demo BTW), etc. etc.

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    10. ats,

      IMHO, it looks like it has better shaping than the F-35 or even F-22, at least in X-S. Whether it (or an operational A-47) has the appropriate RAS/RAM is a different story.

      Can't really say it is terrible in VHF either. It may be, but again so are the F-35 and F-22. It's hard to be good vs long wavelengths without being B-2 sized.

      My guess is it's all-aspects VLO vs X-S but starts to have aspect-related problems in L and definitely issues in VHF.

      But that's just my uneducated guess. I'd be interested where you heard it was worse than that.

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    11. It was a quote attributed to NG in an article a while back. I'll try to dig it up but don't know how much luck I'll have.

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    12. B.Smitty, also apparently the BAE Taranis design is ULO vs VHF and L and about X-47 size. It does however have to have some interesting flight controls to make it work.

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  4. We don’t know what the real world difficulties of trying to operate UAVs over extremely long distances in an electromagnetically challenged environment are.

    We don't? What do Global Hawk and Reaper do if not fly long distances in an electromagnetically charged environment?

    We don’t know what the real world difficulties of trying to operate an unmanned aircraft in and around a carrier are.

    Sure we do. The UCAS-D program demonstrated this at sea.

    My view is that Congress will (and should!) ask serious questions about the Navy's desire to acquire a capability that we already have in abundant excess -- not very stealthy unmanned ISR and light strike.

    UCLASS designed for current Navy requirements is a dead end, period. If the Navy wastes its money building it, they will have to come back later and ask for more money to build the thing they really need -- long-range, stealthy surveillance/strike.

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    1. Exactly, just half a year ago the Navy was planning for UCLASS to be in the F-14 size range with full broadband stealth and a rather significant payload of ~10k+ lbs.

      The Navy has changed directions on what they want for UCLASS so many times that it makes the head spin. Congress is well within their rights and responsibility to make sure the navy has a firm understanding of what it actually needs.

      If the navy just needs an unstealthy ISR asset, there are numerous designs that can be used that are significantly cheaper than doing a whole new program.

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    2. Dexter, we have no idea how any UAV will perform in an electromagnetically challenged environment because it hasn't been tried. Global Hawk, Reaper, or any other UAV have been flown in completely permissive environments. They have not faced jamming or any other electromagnetic challenges.

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    3. Stick to your guns ComNavOps.

      This is what we know from the UCLASS progam so far:
      It can land on an empty carrier deck in good weather when it is the only aircraft in the pattern.

      It can be maneuvered on an emptry carrier deck.

      It can be launched off the carrier on an empty deck when it is the only aircraft being launched.

      It can maintain video surveillance through both LOS and satelite.

      Things we do not know:
      If it can clear the deck as fast as an F-18 after landing.
      If it can be armed as fast an an F-18 after landing.
      If it can be launched at the pace that F-18s can.
      Can the new stealth coatings hold up to life at sea?
      Will the aircraft be able to dodge missiles and cannon that are fired at it?
      Will the Navy ever approve an autonomous UAV firing on it's own volition at an enemy when the link back the manned units are being jammed?

      That last question is huge because if that answer is no then a long range deep strike stealthy UAV is pointless because it will either eventually be shot down or simply return with all of it's ordinance because no one ever pushed the big red button. If the target is just a set of grid coordinates that needs to go boom the Navy already has a superior weapon system for that called the Tomahawk.

      If congress has their way then the Navy will spend billions on aircraft that will never function anywhere close to right.

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    4. USMC 0802 -- for the most part you are arguing against ALL types of UAS, not what type of UCLASS the Navy should have. Your arguments apply equally to the low-end type as well as the more capable type. If the Navy is going to have a UAS on the carrier deck, it might as well not suck, not least because the Air Force already has PLENTY of UAS that suck (non-stealthy, low payload, suitable only for CT in permissive environments).

      As for the questions of stealth and networking, they apply just as much to the F-35 as to any prospective UCLASS. Will F-35 stealth hold up? Will it be able to maintain its comm links (if it can't, then it dies)?

      In short you have not provided a reason not to pursue a capable UAS. If the Navy's going to have one at all, that's what it should pursue.

      That's if it wants its expensive carriers to remain relevant, I guess.

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    5. I think you are underestimating the pilot in the cockpit of a manned aircraft.

      A Navy LT in a F-35C that is lit up by an enemy fire control radar can make his own decision to fire back or not. The UCLASS will only do what is programmed which is probably going to be: "Ask for permission first." Why? No one ever trusts all of our fancy software.

      A basic permissive environment UAS along the lines of the General Atomics offering could prove very useful to the Navy right up to the moment we have to go against China, which i believe is not going to happen anyway. A cheap, basic recon, limited strike UAV is always going to be in demand by those lowly ground pounders like me.

      This points back towards cost. A 15 million General Atomics offering can loiter of the Strait of Hormuz for 12 hours before that carrier crosses. It can look for pirates off the cost of Somalia, it can search hundreds of miles inland.

      Even in the event of a shooting war we can push in UAVs and have the E-2D, F-35C, EA-18G all back in support. Force the enemy to trade a SAM network for a 15 million UAV. Can the US build more UAVs or can the enemy build more SAM systems?

      This is America. I will trade my 15 million UAV for your 50 million S-300 every time.

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  5. Dexter: I don't think he's arguing against those things per se, he's saying we don't know if the UCLASS can do them, and we might want to walk before we can crawl because the fact remains that our acquisition system seems just completely broken.

    I'd be okay with Congress going for the 'Uber' UCLASS if, and only if, the contractors bore the brunt of the bleeding edge stuff. They can recieve the rich reward of the mega contract *after* they can prove that this thing can do what we want. Let two or three compete at it. Lets fly before we buy.

    Otherwise, no. I don't want a Joint Strike UCLASS that we spend hundreds of millions on, only to have a money sinkhole form because we have to make it work because we've spent hundreds of millions on it and 'its the future'.

    For myself, in the meantime, I'd take a simple, low observable drone (alot of which I think could be accomplished by smaller sizes and composite materiels) that can supplement the E2's for farther out ISR.

    Of course, in my dream world, we give Carrier Air something with equivalent range/speed of the Bombcat. Not Uber stealth, just reasonable stuff, but with the ability to manuever/run/load a cubic b*ttload of stand off ordinance.

    *that* would be one half of making the 'expensive carriers relavant'. The other half would be an organic utility plane like an S3 that could act as a tanker and especially an ASW ship.

    All IMHO.

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  6. "A cheap, basic recon, limited strike UAV is always going to be in demand by those lowly ground pounders like me."

    I'm always a bit confused about UAV's for the strike role.

    One one hand, due to delays in coms, I thought that UAV's like Predator had problems with doing CAS for ground pounders. I.E. a 3 second delay from trigger pull to hellfire launch might be a big difference during a firefight. Hence the continued calls for the Warthog. (I wonder if they could make that carrier qualified. ;-) )

    On the other hand, if its not a CAS role, and we are looking just to blow something up, is a predator firing a hellfire as effective as simply launching a tomahawk?

    As for ISR, I like the idea of using one to hover, and maybe attack, over the straits of hormuz prior to a passage. Or as good intel gathering inland for the ground pounders/strike package. But those roles would be more for non- near peer adversaries, it seems.

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  7. If we end up in another peace keeping mission or something similar to what we have been doing for the last decade a ISR asset with limited strike would be nice. I really want something with a long loiter time and relatively cheap operating cost.

    I think a capability along the lines of Army's new Gray Eagle will always be in demand.

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  8. http://warontherocks.com/2014/07/beyond-uclass-preparing-the-navy-for-next-generation-warfare/

    http://warontherocks.com/2014/07/getting-unmanned-naval-aviation-right/

    Here is some good articles on this debate.

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