Navy gets wheels in motion to start official competition to build carrier-based combat UAV

PATUXENT RIVER NAS Md., 15 April 2014. Four U.S. designers of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are set to square-off in a do-or-die competition to build the first deployable carrier-based combat UAV. U.S. Navy officials have signaled the imminent release of a soliciation to design the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft.

Officials of the Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Staton, Md., have released a presolicitation (N00019-14-R-0029) that announces plans to release an initial draft solicitation, and subsequently a final solicitation for the UCLASS aircraft.

The upcoming competition will be limited to four of the nation's leading UAV designers -- the Boeing Co. Defense, Space & Security segment in St. Louis; the Lockheed Martin Corp. Skunk Works in Palmdale, Calif.; General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in Poway, Calif.; and the Northrop Grumman Corp. Aerospace Systems segment in Redondo Beach, Calif.

Related: Navy edges closer to choosing a contractor to build next-generation carrier-based UAV

All four companies have built prototypes of unmanned combat aircraft. Boeing has the X-45N; Lockheed Martin has a variant of its RQ-170 Sentinel; General Atomics has the Avenger; and Northrop Grumman has its carrier-proven X-47B. The formal UCLASS solicitation will be issued only to these companies.

The Navy's UCLASS aircraft will provide a persistent, aircraft carrier-based intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, targeting, and strike capability to support carrier air wing operations, Navy officials say.

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In addition to the aircraft, the UCLASS program involves a control system and connectivity segment and a carrier segment. The government will function as lead system integrator for the UCLASS system.

The UCLASS program will make the most of existing technology to launch and control the unmanned carrier-based aircraft, transfer data, and support persistent surveillance and precision strike operations, Navy officials say.

Related: Navy UCLASS program to develop carried-based unmanned aircraft with surveillance and strike capability by 2018

Plans now call for release of the formal UCLASS request for proposal (RFP) no later than this fall, and contract award in the last half of 2015.

For more information contact Boeing Defense, Space & Security online at www.boeing.com/boeing/bds, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works at www.lockheedmartin.com/us/products/uclass, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems at www.ga-asi.com, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems at www.northropgrumman.com, or Naval Air Systems Command at www.navair.navy.mil.

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