Draft RFP for Navy’s New Carrier-Based Drone Due in September

By Valerie Insinna

After months of delays, industry officials in September will have in hand a draft solicitation for the vehicle portion of the Navy’s aircraft carrier-based drone, said the program executive officer for the Navy’s unmanned aviation and strike weapons.

The Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike, or UCLASS, will provide the Navy with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and will also have a light strike capability.

The drone won’t be called UCLASS for long, said Navy Rear Adm. Mathias Winter during an Aug. 14 speech at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Washington, D.C. By the end of the fiscal year, it will receive a new name and designation.

After the draft request for proposals is issued, the Navy will hold an industry day in October. A final RFP is scheduled to be released in the second quarter of fiscal year 2014, and vendors will be expected to submit proposals within 90 to 120 days, Winter said.

The Navy anticipates awarding a contract for the air vehicle in the first quarter of fiscal year 2015, after “a traditional, yet accelerated source selection process,” he added.

The service in June released a request for proposals to Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and General Atomics for an eight to 10 month preliminary design phase that would allow these companies to mature their UCLASS aircraft concepts.

Winter cautioned against focusing too much on the prime contractor that will be building the air vehicle. The Navy will develop command-and-control systems as well as navigational technologies that will ensure that the UAV is able to safely take off and land on the carrier. There will be wide industry participation throughout all three segments, he said.

"Too many times I've heard we're going to neck down to a single prime and that's it,” he said. “One of our primes will be the air systems vehicle vendor, but I'm here to tell you that our industrial base — the 500 plus displays I see back here — a large percentage of that industrial footprint will be participating directly or indirectly as part of this UCLASS program of record."

How many aircraft the Navy buys will not be determined until a vendor is selected. The current requirement is to buy as many vehicles as it takes to provide 24/7 coverage at “a tactically significant range … providing ISR and other mission capabilities as directed,” Winter said.

“Think of a daisy chain of air vehicles launching and recovering and having air vehicles for maintenance — that's the number of air vehicle subsystems required for a single orbit,” he said. “We'll be able to understand how many air vehicle subsystems [we need for an orbit] when we select the final air vehicle vendor.”

Early operating capability for the system is anticipated from 2018 to 2020, depending on the vehicle’s maturity, Winter said. After a vendor is chosen, the vehicle will undergo a three-to-six-year technology development phase to mitigate risks associated with integrating the three UCLASS segments. It will also focus on “maturing fleet con-ops [concept of operations] and letting the fleet understand how they will operate this new capability,” he said.

One factor in pushing back the solicitation’s release was a debate within the Navy over how technically advanced — and therefore, how expensive — UCLASS should be.

“I think we looked at what we would like to have, and then we looked at what we could afford, and we prioritized," said Dyke Weatherington, director of unmanned warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at the office of the Secretary of Defense at an Aug. 13 panel at the conference.

"What resulted … were the most critical needs that the Navy currently had with a plan to kind of grow that capability as much as we could,” he added. “Especially in this fiscal environment, DoD can't afford to start programs that we can't finish."

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, Robotics, Unmanned Air Vehicles

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