The Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft development program has issued an initial RFP for continued prototype work to four companies. Unfortunately, actual specifications have been hard to come by. The United States Naval Institute (USNI News) has released a few details (1).
Persistence/Range – UCLASS should be able to perform two orbits around its launch point at a range of 600 nm or one orbit at a range of 1200 nm. It should be able to conduct a strike mission at 2000 nm. A quick calculation shows that to be a total range of 8,000 nm or so - awfully impressive (skeptically so?) for a craft that size. I'm not sure I believe that's possible.
Carrier Compatibility – UCLASS should be able to take off and land in Sea States up to 7 (29 ft waves).
Weapons/Payload – Payload is 3000 lbs and should include EO/IR capability. A third (1000 lbs) of the payload must be existing carrier weapons. A self defense payload is required although the details were not specified.
Communications – UCLASS should be compatible with existing communications systems including beyond line of sight and should be capable of being handed off between operators and systems.
Stealth – Major stealth is not a requirement although it should have enough to allow it to operate in “lightly contested areas”.
The competing companies and their expected entries are:
The issuance of the current RFP to the four companies is intended to initiate a Preliminary Design Review phase of development after which a down-select will occur (bearing in mind that the down-select of the LCS never happened!) in late 2014.
The current RFP seems to suggest a very low level of capability compared to original concept capabilities. The UCLASS seems to be geared towards surveillance and intelligence gathering with only a minimal, light strike capability. This is quite a departure from the original concepts but seems eminently reasonable – gather actual operating data from simple missions and functions rather than trying to leap into capabilities that are beyond reach, as happened with the LCS. I find this approach sensible and refreshing.