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Lawmakers Seek Broader Roles for UCLASS

by Kris Osborn on September 20, 2013

X-47BSeveral lawmakers have written a letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, asking that the service to consider a broader scope of requirements and capabilities for its Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System, or UCLASS.

Congressman Randy Forbes, R-Va., Chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces and Congressman Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., ranking member of the Subcommittee co-authored the letter to Mabus. In the letter, the Congressmen asks Mabus to consider a wide range of mission possibilities for the UCLASS platform such that it becomes an “integral part of the Carrier Air Wing.”

There has been ongoing discussion and deliberations regarding the requirements, roles and potential mission sets for the future carrier-based drone. Some in the Pentagon, involved with the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, are advocating for a narrowly scripted intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR role for the platform.

Others, however, are calling for a broader range of capabilities to include stealth capabilities, weaponization and more extensive integration with the Carrier Air Wing.

“We believe the current path could limit the capability growth of the system in the future. We believe UCLASS should be designed to be an integral part of the CVW (Carrier Air Wing) that can employ in the full-spectrum of the Navy’s power-projection mission,” the letter states.

Along these lines, the letter asks Mabus to work with the UCLASS program to “draft a technology development request for proposal (RFP) that does not focus on just one particular key performance parameter, but enables competition and capability tradeoffs on a spectrum of attributes such as range, payload, survivability and affordability.”

A more broadly scoped set of missions will allow industry the flexibility to develop a range of solutions able to meet threshold requirements for the UCLASS in both the near-term and the longer term, the letter argues.

A big part of the argument of the letter seems to center around the importance of establishing broad requirements so that the platform can grow, change and evolve over time as technologies mature. Advocates for a wider-set of mission roles for the UCLASS platform argue that the core ISR function will not in any way be lost or lessened but rather added to with additional capability.

Navy officials indicated that the technology development RFP for the UCLASS program is still being drafted.

The technology development RFP follows an Aug. 14 contract wherein the Navy awarded four Preliminary Design Review deals for the UCLASS program.

The four $15 million firm-fixed price contracts were awarded to Boeing Co., General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Navy officials said in a written statement.

These preliminary contracts are designed to help industry understand the requirements for the platform, service officials added.

Forbes and McIntyre ask Mabus to provide the committee with a briefing of the content and evaluation criteria contained in the technology development RFP before it is sent to Mr. Frank Kendall, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

The UCLASS drone, to be operational by 2018 to 2020, promises to bring an as-of-yet unprecedented capability to the Navy by delivering a large, next-generation unmanned aircraft with a large wingspan and high-tech sensors to the deck on an aircraft carrier.

Being a first-of-its-kind capability, the UCLASS will bring long-dwell ISR capability over greater distances than existing aircraft – and provide an ISR presence without needing to land on a runway in a host country.

A spokeswomen for Mabus confirmed that he plans to respond to the lawmakers.

“The Secretary is appreciative of their interest in UCLASS and the future of our fleet, and he looks forward to responding to them,” Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence told Military​.com in a written statement.

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