Home » Air » DARPA seeks UAV for LCS 2

DARPA seeks UAV for LCS 2

by Mike Hoffman on March 8, 2013

The U.S. military wants to build a medium-sized drone that it can fly off Littoral Combat Ship 2 (LCS2)-class ships.

Long endurance drones have caught the eye of naval leaders, and well, pretty much all military officials for their ability to collect intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). However, most of the drones that can stay in the air longest need an aircraft carrier or a land base to operate from.

While the LCS2 is certainly no zodiak, it’s still considerably smaller than a carrier.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) officials have put out a call for defense companies to submit designs for a drone that could carry 600 pounds worth of sensor equipment and fly between 600 to 900 nautical miles from its ship, according to an agency statement.

DARPA listed the requirements that they want to achieve with the new UAV. Below are those requirements:

• Devising a reliable launch and recovery technique that enables large aircraft operations from smaller ships, even in rough seas;

• Designing an aircraft with range, endurance and payload comparable to emerging land-based unmanned aircraft, while still meeting the demands of the maritime environment;

• Ensuring the entire system can operate with minimal, and preferably reversible, ship modifications and minimal personnel requirements for operations and maintenance; and

• Packaging the system to fit into the limited space aboard ships.

DARPA’s program manager, Daniel Patt, compared the new UAV he hopes to develop to a falcon that always returns. Patt said he hopes to have a demonstration prototype in 40 months.

“It’s like having a falcon return to the arm of any person equipped to receive it, instead of to the same static perch every time,” Patt said in a statement. “About 98 percent of the world’s land area lies within 900 nautical miles of ocean coastlines. Enabling small ships to launch and retrieve long-endurance UAVs on demand would greatly expand our situational awareness and our ability to quickly and flexibly engage in hotspots over land or water.”

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{ 86 comments… read them below or add one }

blight_ March 8, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Fire Scouts?


FormerDirtDart March 8, 2013 at 2:56 pm

More likely something based closer to the Fire-X, or the Boeing A-160


tweedle dee March 8, 2013 at 3:46 pm

I think range is the issue with that


blight_ March 8, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Fire Scout probably goes farther than LCS' offensive capability. /snicker


Jeff March 8, 2013 at 5:57 pm

I'm guessing that with the right kind of mods you could fit about 80 harpoons on and LCS 2 type without a great deal of effort. That large flight deck could just as well be armored hatches as plain steel if the design effort were made.


FormerDirtDart March 8, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Goes farther than a Perry classes offensive capability too. Honestly 600 nmi out-ranges everything except planes, Tomahawks and Tridents


blight_ March 8, 2013 at 10:49 pm

At which point, Littoral Combat Ship is flying UAVs over land targets.

The LCS is going to be a teleoperated vehicle mothership: USV's, UAV's…

Nothin' combat about it.

Joe Schmoe March 8, 2013 at 2:21 pm

IAI Panther

It's already in use aboard ships.


Jon March 8, 2013 at 2:35 pm

The IAI Panther weighs less than 150 lbs. I don't see it meeting the requirement to carry 600 lbs of sensors.


FormerDirtDart March 8, 2013 at 2:40 pm

It weighs only 142 lbs, and has a operational radius of 37 miles.
How you calculate a 600 lbs payload, and a 600-900 nmi range into that is beyond me.


Gray March 9, 2013 at 7:19 am

Maybe it could be used as a basis for development.
the 40 month timescale is pretty ambitious unless you already have a pretty good idea about how this would be done and just upscale it.


EW3 March 8, 2013 at 2:37 pm

A small version of the MV-22.


UAVTOL March 12, 2013 at 3:09 pm
JE_McKellar March 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm

How about a floatplane like the Kingfishers from WW2?


Jeff M March 8, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Those don't work too well in the open sea, especially small ones.


ohwilleke March 11, 2013 at 1:22 pm

It is a good idea and one could make the design more robust to allow for somewhat higher sea states.

For example, if you could land it with some sort of parachute and rapidly inflating liferaft when rough seas made it necessary, a bit like a space capsule, you would only need somewhat fair seas to launch it (and one can control launch conditions more easily than landing conditions).


JE_McKellar March 11, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Catapult launch was good enough back in the day, so it should be enough now. To further the space-capsule idea, I imagine a short of space-age PBY Catalina, with a lifting-body fuselage, turbo-prop mounted on a strut above, with a tail and wings attached to the engine mount. Since the tail and wings would be the first things to break in a rough landing in a high sea-state, you could make them cheap, modular, and easily replaceable.

For launch and recovery, you could make a combination catapult/crane the size of a shipping container and bolt it to the flight deck.


Lance March 8, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Could use a Predator but use rockets to assist take off. How ever it must be small enough to be fit into the hanger along with a SH-60B Seahawk.


ziv March 9, 2013 at 7:58 am

And it would land how? I don't think Predators are disposable. The UK did that with fighters at the height of the Atlantic campaign, it was hard on the pilots but the Predator would take the pilot out of the equation, admittedly. ;-)


blight_ March 9, 2013 at 8:26 am

In terms of risk/reward the reward was shooting down maritime Condors, which the Germans could not afford to replace.


Lance March 11, 2013 at 1:32 pm

hook and cables like small carriers


blight_ March 11, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Re-engineering the Predator to have an towhook is more billable time for General Atomics, but is not infeasible. The other question is what is the landing speed of this UAV, and will the sudden stop cause long-term structural damage?


Daniel M March 11, 2013 at 7:15 pm

My original note assumed it flew onto the deck at about 45 knots, and the ship was traveling approximately that speed into the wind, so it could actually hover over the deck. so no sudden stop. The min velocity landing of a Predator is already 63 knots, so either STOL flaps/slats or a bipe wing mod should drop its landing speed to 45 knots, perhaps less. As for takeoff, again use the high top LCS dash speed, this time with the wind, and a robo water scooter/skidoo pulling a tow rope or JATO assist, or both.

riceball March 13, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Simple, you use the same recovery system that they used on the Iowas, just string up a big net to catch the UAV as it crosses the stern. Granted that the UAVs carried by the Iowas were probably smaller and slower than this proposed UAV but better materials and a slower approach speed should (in theory) fix things.


Jayson March 8, 2013 at 3:15 pm

A demonstrator in 40 months … 4 years? That's pretty far fetched.


EW3 March 8, 2013 at 2:25 pm

General Atomics could turn it in under a year on their dime if they wanted to.

They've done that with many of their UAV products.

It's a very impressive engineering company, wish I were just starting my career, I would have really liked working there.


Jeff March 9, 2013 at 9:33 am
d. kellogg March 11, 2013 at 7:09 am

The odd part about the timeframe they're asking: did it take all of 4 months for the USN to integrate Israeli UAVs (called RPVs back then) onto a US battleship for use against Iraq during Desert Storm?

Yet we need almost 3 and a half years to do that same end result now?

For the money we pay US defense contractors, it certainly seems a lot of the learning curve, even the overall knowledge base, it seems to exponentially reduce everytime the price goes up…
Wonder what kind of fancy math they teach business executives?


FormerDirtDart March 11, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Not sure how long it to to plan and integrate the AQ-2 Pioneers onto Battleships. But, they were doing it back in 1986, so that's just a bit earlier than Desert Storm.


riceball March 13, 2013 at 2:24 pm

More like 3 years and 4 months.


IronV March 8, 2013 at 3:56 pm

The IOWA class batteships used Pioneer UAVs for gunfire spotting in the 90s. Very effective. I was amused at the recovery system–a big net. No literally. A big net. Worked great.


FormerDirtDart March 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm

The payload and range they are targeting will require something much, much larger than a RQ-2. I would wager executing a captured recovery of something with such mass would be quite difficult.


IronV March 8, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Roger that. Wasn't suggesting the RQ-2; way too small. Just reminiscing about the recovery system… if you recall an Iraqi contigent actually came out of their underground bunkers and surrendered to one of the WISCONSIN's drones. They'd figured out that when the little machine flew over, certain death in a rain of 16" shells wasn't far behind…


AirDefeatBattle March 8, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Iraqi troops also surrendered to a CNN camera crew, never mind the infamous story of the hummve stuck in the mud to which a BMP and T-72 surrendered, after pulling out the hummve.


IronV March 8, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Well, I don't blame them… the interesting thing about the WISCONSIN story is the "cause and effect." Drone flies over. Giant artillery shells blow bunkers out of the ground… Good time to bring out the white flags.

Conradswims March 8, 2013 at 5:01 pm

A Transvestite ship!


Prodozul March 8, 2013 at 5:19 pm

This would explain why DARPA was so interested in a new design for a VTOL


Belesari March 8, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Well my idea is a old one. The flying flapjack. Was made for STO/SL could a medium sized version be be built?


AirDefeatBattle March 8, 2013 at 5:56 pm

You could scale it down sure, but it'd still needed an actual flight deck for takeoff and landing. Also the actual XF5U had major stability and other handling problems which is why it was so delayed and never entered service.

I'd go with one of the concepts for a tilt rotor which has the rotors fold for storage and switch to jet engine flight in mid air allowing for (on paper) even supersonic speed. Considerable work was done on this in the 1970s and its an ideal way to get VTOL with highly efficient cruise. V-22 is what we got out of a decision to go with a simpler, less efficient and slower sort of configuration. Only downside besides being complex to the folding rotor idea is high empty weight, but that isn't so important in a plane meant for recon rather then as a troop or cargo transport.

The idea has come back now and then since the 70s http://www.aviationweek.com/Blogs.aspx?plckBlogId


William_C1 March 8, 2013 at 6:02 pm

If there is one nice thing about the LCS is that it has a large hanger and helicopter deck. If they can't find any other use for them the LCS should be great for deploying unmanned assets from.


Daniel M March 8, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Keep in mind that the LCS can pull nearly 50 knots. So take a Predator, add folding wings for last 1/3 of length, and have STOL flaps/slots on the inner 60%. A Predator with a 55 knot landing speed would have only a 5 knot overtake speed, plenty slow for auto capture. If you have a headwind all the better.


Texas March 9, 2013 at 1:10 am

The Navy should find a replacement for the LCS first! One that can fire a torpedo, or a Harpoon, or a ESSM. Throw in a 5-in gun too.


Daniel March 9, 2013 at 8:05 am

Convair pogo sucked as a maned option but might make a good uav


JCitizen March 14, 2013 at 1:26 am

Especially with today's computer control making almost anything perfectly flyable. Maybe that is an idea that needs revisiting!


blight_ March 9, 2013 at 8:33 am

I wonder if it would be cheaper to teleoperate a small helicopter, like a Schweizter 300. The Fire-X (as someone else mentioned) is the next option. Based on the Longranger family of Bell helicopters and teleoperated. The smaller JetRanger is an option…and isn't the Kiowa Warrior based on the JetRanger?

Or a Brantly B-2. Fair amount of small helicopter options…unless we are open to trying some kind of STOL option?


Sanem March 9, 2013 at 9:14 am

tailsitters like the Pogo have the potential to be gamechanging
basically a helicopter for landing and take off, but flies like an aircraft and thus has aircraft speed and range. also STOVL should be feasable

the huge advantage over other VTOL aircraft is that there is no need for a complicated tilt or thrust vectoring design or extra engines. that saves a lot of money and potential accidents and malfunctions


Sanem March 9, 2013 at 9:20 am

they need a bigger version of this: http://spyplanes.com/products-v-bat/


Red March 9, 2013 at 11:36 am

Is it not possible to build a miniature V-22 like drone, that can fly up like a helicopter, and then horizontally like an airplane? Have the benefit of an airplane-like drone with the benefit of fitting into small takeoff spaces.


d. kellogg March 11, 2013 at 7:12 am


Even looks good in USCG colors.


blight_ March 11, 2013 at 10:39 am

Wow, pretty prototype. Only 200 pd payload though. Scale it up some more and we'll be set!


JCitizen March 14, 2013 at 1:38 am

You mean like this?

This flying gyrochopper is designed to fly at close to 235 mph by slowing the blade props to increase speed. I imagine that regenerated energy could be used to realize more thrust for the pusher prop. Check out the instant hops this thing can do with two pilots on board – imagine what it could do unmanned?


JSam77 March 9, 2013 at 11:59 am

Sikorsky is working on a compound helicopter design called the Raider. It has a co-axial rotor with a prop pusher on the back. I wonder if they could scale it down to a UAV? It would give you VTOL plus the flight characteristics of a prop plane. It also has tremendous lift capability, if Sikorsky's numbers are accurate.


oblat March 9, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Yes because the future of the US navy is ferries armed with model airplanes.


dennisbuller March 9, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Helicopter based UAV's don't have the range. The ocean is a big place.
What they need is a UAV that uses electric powered props to go vertical and then transition to a direct drive prop for long range loitering.
The Navy also needs "strap on the side" boat UAV's to counteract small Boat attacks and to better their carrier coverage against subs, aircraft and other ships.
Imagine a destroyer that carried six boat UAV's. Each having heavy machine guns and then having a specific job. Two as radar extensions (with antiaircraft missiles); two for anti-sub (placing sonar probes and anti-sub torpedo) and two that had anti-ship armaments (anti-ship missile.)
Between the air and sea based UAV's you could triple the coverage area against all threats.


blight_ March 9, 2013 at 11:37 am

Depends on what you want the UAVs for.

If you are intending to use them for spotting threats ahead of the LCS, which is in turn ahead of the fleet, it may not be too bad. A good maritime scout aircraft will probably be bigger than what can be launched from an LCS: in which case it should be some kind of STOL UAV that can be launched from a LHA/LPD or a CVN. Or a teleoperated maritime patrol aircraft.

We're at a point that we need pragmatic deliverables, not tiltrotor UAVs. We've paid in blood to get the V-22's working, so a teleoperated V-22 might work (or the lighter Ba-609?)


FormerDirtDart March 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Or further develop the Bell Eagle Eye/HV-911


DennisBuller March 12, 2013 at 11:03 am

I see UAV's as extenders of the ship platform.
Ships can have huge, heavy, powerful equipment to do specific jobs.
What a ship cannot do is be in more than one place at a time. Or fly a hundred miles away.
The carrier is there for air supremacy.
So I see UAV's assisting the destroyer/cruiser in their base roles. Antisub, anti-aircraft and anti-small boat/ship. In other words, picket duty.
The one role I do not see UAV's helping ships with is shore bombardment. Too heavy a role.


BlackOwl18E March 10, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Scan Eagle.


FormerDirtDart March 10, 2013 at 5:17 pm

And how exactly is a 40 lbs Scan Eagle going to carry a 600 lbs sensor package, while flying 600-900 nmi to get to a target area??

Perhaps you should read the article. Or, you can just suggest a F/A-18F is the optimal platform for this mission.


BlackOwl18E March 10, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Your right actually. I didn't read the article this time. I just looked at the title and immediately thought that the Scan Eagle would be compatible with the LCS.

600lbs? That's not much. I'm sure we'll figure it out.


Big-Dean March 10, 2013 at 9:37 pm

For everyone dreaming about the great aviation possibilities, but sure to keep in mind that this "ship?" pitches like a bronco even in calm seas (watch an video).It's got stability problems so a large flight deck is only so useful. Secondly, it will not do 50 knots once it's loaded up with real stuff. Ever wonder why they always do their high speed test with an empty ship? Put a couple of helos on and a full load out of fuel and supplies and this thing might do 35 knots if it's lucky


d. kellogg March 11, 2013 at 7:17 am

If they want to do forward air picket duty, and targetting telemetry over-the-hozon from the ship (which we should be committing othe assets to anyway),
then why not tethered aerostats with an AESA system like the SABR and/or other EO systems?

For the price the USN is ending up paying for an LCS and its modules, and the looming implication they desire the capabilities of an Aegis Burke in a frigate-sized hull, they shoulda just license-built Spanish F100s.


blight_ March 11, 2013 at 10:38 am

It's not about shoehorning DDG into FFG hulls…it's about niches that an DDG is too expensive for.

I just wish the Navy had said "you know, we don't really know what works best, so we'll buy off-the-shelf, figure out what we wish we could've had and build our own in a few years".

We had PC Cyclones, a huge gap and then the FFG's, and then DDG's. I get the feeling LCS was meant to fit the space between PC's and the FFG, but…


ketr March 11, 2013 at 10:29 am

Are the chinese already trying to steal the tech?


blight_ March 11, 2013 at 10:34 am

They can probably build better small boats and corvettes than we can. China and South Korea have good experience building civilian-grade ships…


Vpanoptes March 15, 2013 at 10:38 am

If you mean the LCS tech, they're probably too smart for that.


blight_ March 15, 2013 at 11:07 am

What's to steal? The hull form? The engines?

There's not much fancy about LCS. You want the doodads that are supposed to some day come with it, not the barebones hull.


Beno March 11, 2013 at 12:54 pm


Not currenty a UAV, but currently under development by Augusta Westland ( where the Royal Navy gets its helo's )
Interestly the RN have a requirement out for something very similar for the new Type 26 Global Combat Ship

Ill let you guys deside if we think there is a link ?


ohwilleke March 11, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Why not sacrifice a bit of the rough seas capability and get a drone seaplane with retractable wings that can be lifted with a winch into and out of the LCS?


TonyC March 11, 2013 at 2:23 pm

The LCS flight deck is aluminum, so jet exhaust will be a big problem for it.
The only viable UAV will be catapaulted in to the air, but landing is another issue.
The net idea may be useful on the LCS or have a UAV that lands on water and is hoisted aboard. There are very practical problems to be solved in this endeavor.


blight_ March 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm

UAV with floats? Hmm.

It'll work best on calmer waters, and in wartime you expect to lose a few unmanned units aways, so they might have to be treated as single-use at rougher sea states.


ohwilleke March 11, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Why not launch the UAV like a glider using the SH-60 on board and then retrieve it in a Mid-Air Recovery with the SH-60 like the Lightening Bug and Firebee drones were during Vietnam? Improved flight control systems for modern drones would make retrieval much easier.


demophilus March 11, 2013 at 7:45 pm

The Bert Rutan Scaled Composites/Freewing Scorpion might be scaled up for this application, but it would be a real stretch. A blended wing/body design like the Swift Killer Bee might work too, if it could fly very near to stall at a high AoA. But the real problem is going to be recovery, either in any kind of sea state, or with the kind of sudden gusts you get at sea level. Those factors, plus the payload specs, would drive this towards something with a rotor.


Dick Spivey March 13, 2013 at 11:05 pm
Brian W March 14, 2013 at 12:45 pm
John M. Lawrence March 14, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I recently patented in the US and Canada a new type of VTOL aircraft which offers a high-efficiency cruise. Please see tiltplane.com. I graduated from Webb institute in 1964 and am now retired, but I would love to work with anyone who might want to propose using a tiltplane for this mission. I have three BASIC programs written by Ray Prouty which correspond to the three fight modes: hover, transition, and cruise. A typical tiltplane can easily have a lift/drag ratio of 19.5:1 at 200 knots. The top speed can easily be 300 knots.


Brian March 14, 2013 at 7:51 pm
Brian March 14, 2013 at 7:52 pm
jlawren3 March 16, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Oops. I do not think that battery power is capable of providing the power needed for several hours of tiltplane operation. I have not yet selected an internal combustion engine which should be suitable. Does anyone know of a small engine that they would recommend?


Dan Costello March 16, 2013 at 7:11 pm

A drone disguised as a butterfly – using its wings as solar panels – could remain in the air indefinitely- may be the answer to refueling


blight_ March 9, 2013 at 11:52 am

Don't forget the whizbang electronics and the Universal Translator to communicate our humanitarian intentions…!


ohwilleke March 11, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Somebody has to deal with Somoli pirates or support small anti-terrorist U.S. raids into Yemen when the big guns are off fighting China, and that is what the LCS is designed to do. Heavy warships and aircraft carriers have their place, but you need more than one kind of tool in your toolbox. We have nothing else in the LCS capability class and fighting pirates with Burke class destroyers is a sure way to lose a war of attrition.


blight_ March 11, 2013 at 11:20 am

Just sell it to Northrop. I'm sure they'll give you a cut of cost-plus while they string out the government for it…


blight_ March 11, 2013 at 8:22 pm

"Max Payload:2,500 lbs"



gobingo March 15, 2013 at 8:33 pm

except they cant figure out how to not crash them……great concept, but lots of work to go with that rigid rotor system

proposing the A160…might as well go with the next gen firescout thats already being developed by the Navy

This is solution either has to be a radical new VTOL concept….. or work with the technology funded inventory.


JCitizen March 14, 2013 at 1:15 am

The farther away you see your enemy the faster you can start running! :)


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