The U.S. Navy is advancing supporting elements of the planned Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UClass) program as it awaits direction on the air vehicle component of the system. The service had expected to issue a final request for proposals (RFP) for the air vehicle component soon, but release of the document has been delayed.
In a September 10 press release, the Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) said a UClass engineering team has installed the latest version of control station software at a laboratory at the Patuxent River, Md., Naval Air Station. “This iteration forms the baseline for all future UClass control software,” stated Cmdr. Wade Harris, the program’s control system and connectivity lead. “These early lab tests will help inform us as we move forward with development and eventually test with the air vehicle.”
Navair’s announcement came on the same day that a high-level Pentagon Defense Acquisition Board was expected to meet on UClass and possibly authorize release of the air vehicle RFP. But the Pentagon has put off releasing the document to review the UClass program as part of its budget process, a development USNI News first reported late last month. “Defense officials will be including UClass in its ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) portfolio review to be conducted in conjunction with the normal budget review process this fall,” the Navy said in an emailed statement. “Determination regarding the release of the UClass RFP will be made based on the results of this review.”
The Navy first issued a request for information in March 2010 to identify potential industry sources for an “organic, sea-based unmanned aerial system, with persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting and strike capabilities.” The service awarded Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and General Atomics UClass study contracts in June 2011 and preliminary design review assessment contracts last year. In April, the service released a draft RFP to the four manufacturers.
As the program’s lead systems integrator, the Navy is directing the UClass control system and connectivity (CS&C) and carrier segments. The government-led segments “require a high-level of coordination” involving collaboration among 72 programs of record, 22 program offices, six program executive offices and three systems commands, according to the Navair announcement.
The new control station software is the first to provide an unmanned command and control capability using the latest Navy Interoperability Profile standards, which allow control systems to communicate with multiple air vehicles, Navair said. It is currently being tested on an air vehicle simulator based on the MQ-4C Triton, a Global Hawk maritime derivative. The Navy’s MQ-8B/C Fire Scout program has also contributed to developing the UClass baseline software.