Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Based on a comment and link offered by ShockwaveLover in the UCLASS Update  post, the 8000+ nm range spec may be very much less than that.  A commenter from another site, claiming to have intimate knowledge of the procedures and terminology, says that the requirement to fly 600 nm and then conduct two orbits (or 1200 nm and one orbit) doesn’t mean what the graphic that accompanied the stated requirement implied it meant.  Instead of an orbit being a circle around the carrier’s location, it means an orbit (actually oval racetrack) around the end point of the UAVs travel.  In other words, the UAV would fly 600 nm out and then conduct two comparatively miniscule orbits around that end point. 

Taking the longest case of 1200 nm out and back plus a single, very small orbit, the range requirement looks to be more on the order of 3000 nm.

This is a completely plausible explanation despite the graphic that strongly implied an orbit around the carrier and I’m inclined to believe it.  In addition, it accords much better with my estimation of the range that a UAV would have in that role.  We’ll have to wait for confirmation one way or the other.


  1. The concepts of 'orbits' have been used by UAS community for quite some time. And it doesn't mean circling around the launch base. It means going out some set radius of action (ROA) from the base and conducting the mission.

    Triton and UCLASS should be very similar in that respect - the difference being that the UCLASS "base" is moving!

    I wouldn't necessarily describe the orbit capability as miniscule. At 40-50,000 ft, you can sense quite a long distance with a good radar or ESM. Being there 24/7 helps a great deal in terms of developing the ISR picture.

    I also don't think both orbits would need to be colloated. For example: one might be to the left of the carrier and one might be on the right side. That's a lot of coverage.

    1. Anon, you're confirming the alternate interpretation of "orbit", and the one I'm inclined to believe.

      When I call the orbit miniscule I mean in terms of miles travelled compared to the original concept of an orbit around the carrier. A racetrack orbit of 50 miles, for example, would be miniscule compared to the thousands of miles that an orbit with a 600 nm radius would entail. I fully understand that the area covered by the UAV's sensors would be much larger!


  2. And once again, the PR / PAO branch of the Navy produces public information, the graphic, that leads the viewer to infer that a Navy weapon system has more capability than it actually has.

  3. The specs were a cut and paste by USNI -- not really an official PAO/PR extension of the Navy.

    And they were part of an RFI to industry, who probably should have a pretty good understanding of what they mean!

  4. See below. Affordability trumps capability.


    1. Anon, that's a great link. I hadn't seen that article and I hope everyone reads it.

      It leads me to wonder about the value of a UAV whose primary purpose is surveillance. The Navy already has Hawkeyes and is developing a UAV BAMS. Is a $150M surveillance UAV the Navy's most pressing need? I'd rather see that money spent on offensive mine warfare, mine countermeasures, or any number of other uses.

      The UCLASS' other purpose, which is light strike in low threat environments, seems unnecessary. If it's a low threat environment, manned aircraft like the JSF or even the Hornet should be just fine.


    2. E-2 Hawkeye really does airborne early warning - not surface surveillance.

      A case COULD be made that the surveillance capabilities provided by UCLASS are duplicitive (and perhaps inferior) to Triton.

      But the key issue with Triton is that you still need land-basing relatively close to the fight. That could be a problem in say the Pacific.

      UCLASS brings persistence -- but not a lot of ordnance. So, I'm not sure what advantage it would have in a low-threat environment, except to free up Hornets and JSF for other missions (air-air, etc.)

    3. The question is not whether having the surveillance UCLASS on a carrier is desirable; hey, if you could have one, why wouldn't you? The question is whether it brings enough extra, unique capability to justify the cost in this time of extreme budget limitations.

      Specifically, does the surveillance UCLASS offer enough enhancement on top of the existing satellite/Hawkeye/BAMS/Fire Scouts/JSF/Air Force AWACS capabilities to justify the cost. All of those other platforms provide surveillance and, taken in concert, provide a pretty good overall awareness around a carrier group. Will UCLASS provide enough extra to warrant the cost?

      Further thoughts?

    4. The USNI article doesn't say so directly, but it confirms my opinion that the scope of work needed to produce a full-blown UCLASS unmanned strike fighter is more than what current budgets can support.

      In the face of ongoing issues with the F-35 which have resulted in calls from some quarters to initiate a crash program to produce a full-size workable strike UCAV, the Navy has taken a properly conservative approach in pursuing UCAS-D / UCLASS.

      Assuming the F-35 program continues in its current pattern of experiencing cost growth issues combined with significant technical issues, the temptation to initiate a crash program for UCLASS -- bunches of them crash before everything is figured out -- must be resisted.

      A good part of the scope of work for producing a full-size strike UCAV is developing reliable onboard artificial intelligence software and a secure system of reliable data links to the aircraft. You can't really make use of a fully capable strike UCAV -- even for testing and developmental purposes -- until those two pieces of the puzzle reach some critical mass of basic capability.

      If a decade has to pass before the AI software and the secure communications links are well enough along to place them aboard a large developmental strike UCAV, then that is the only proper way to approach the job.

  5. "Specifically, does the surveillance UCLASS offer enough enhancement on top of the existing satellite/Hawkeye/BAMS/Fire Scouts/JSF/Air Force AWACS capabilities to justify the cost. All of those other platforms provide surveillance and, taken in concert, provide a pretty good overall awareness around a carrier group. Will UCLASS provide enough extra to warrant the cost?"
    I would argue that it does. It is tough to have too much surveillance.

    Assume that satellites will be shot down or disrupted.

    AWACS is a great asset, but limited in quantity. Expect them to be over tasked in directing USAF missions. They are also tied to land bases and limited aerial tanker assets. In short, they are vulnerable to A2/AD.

    R/MQ-4s are a great platform, but will be bought limited in numbers they are also very expensive, and in spite of their range, limited to land bases (A2/AD vulnerable).

    P-8s are also good, but are again tied to ground bases.

    E-2s are too limited in range, too few are carried on CVNs.

    UCLASS is really the only carrier capable player, that can do the job. It is a bit like the early matchlock rifles: not a huge advantage over the long bow, but clearly the wave of the future. hopefully it will not take several generations before the advantages are dominant.


    1. GAB, the article mentioned a cost target (those are always exceeded!) of $150M per UCLASS. Yikes! What Navy program are you willing to give up to get that? The budget isn't going to increase so if you want a UCLASS, something else has to go.

      On a strongly related note, the SSBN(X) is going to consume huge amounts of Navy budget either directly or indirectly, depending on how it's funded.

      What are you going to give up?

    2. Ah ha!

      ComNavOPs you caught me!

      One way or another, unmanned carrier aviation is coming.

      The right answer might be to bite the bullet and buy UCLASS now, or continue to fund R&D and delay procurement of UCLASS.

      To balance the Navy budget, I would cut the V-22 program completely and transfer existing platforms to AFSOC. The CH-53K would go away. Replacements would be the navalized H-47s (our allies fly them), or look at what it would take to re-open the H-53 production line.

      Also on the chopping block would be the F-35B. Replacements would be F/A-18s, maybe down trade (2) F-35B for (1) F-35C (in other words buy half the F-35Bs as "C" models, and whatever the new COIN aircraft is. Even wilder would be to transfer A-10s from the USAF to the USMC.

      Oh, and kill the LCS program. For every six (6) planned LCSs build two (2) modernized FFG (VLS, a 5" gun - 155mm if possible), two (2) MCM helicopters (H-53, H-47, or MCH 101), four (4) MCMs, and commercial flo/flo yacht transporter (to transport the MCM vessels).

      Trading 36 LCSs for: (12) FFGs, (12) MCM helicopters, (24) MCM vessels, and (6) yacht transporters would cost less, and field a more capable navy.

      Simple, and brutal.

      Want me to fix the federal deficit next?


    3. GAB, no need to fix the deficit, Obama has assured me he'll take care of that. I basically like and agree with your acquisition plan. Personally, I'd cut the JSF totally and buy more Super Hornets until a new, affordable aircraft could be designed - one that's an evolutionary improvement on the Hornet rather than a Star Wars attempt. Still and all, a nice approach, GAB!

    4. GAB, the other nagging question I have about the surveillance UCLASS is, what will we do with the info it collects? It will be searching 600 - 1200 nm from the carrier (closer than that, we've already got assets that can do the job). OK, we see targets, now what? We don't have 600 - 1200 nm strike missiles. Tomahawk, sure, but those are generally used on fixed targets and we already largely know where those are. I get that any intel is good intel but when we're looking at cost/benefit balances I just wonder how useful the UCLASS data will be.

    5. Ah, but the sensors will reach farther than that...

      The big point is to find the enemy first, then commanders can fine tune their attack plans. stumbling blindly into a fight is not the way to do it.

      Remember that two naval formations 900 nm apart could, in theory nearly collide in one day. Do not underestimate the value of scouting; it has burned endless numbers of commanders.

      And yes, better and longer range weapons are needed too.

      On the F-35, I think the USAF could get away without the F-35, but the Navy desperately needs a longer range stealthy aircraft. The F-35 is far from perfect, but it is the only thing available.


  6. My math for the LCS excercise is

    LCS = $ 0.8B
    x 36 = $28.8B

    FFG = $ 1.0B
    MCM = $ 0.2B
    MCM Helo = $0.1B
    Flo/Flo yacht transporter = $0.25B
    Force Cost = $18.42B

    Getting rid of the LCS = priceless



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