The U.S. Navy is considering fielding a stealthy unmanned combat aircraft as part of a carrier strike group, as early as 2018. The Navy has recently published a request for information (RFI), a precursor for an acquisition process, calling for information on such concepts, optimized for irregular and hybrid warfare scenarios. The Unmanned Carrier-launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) will be required to integrate and operate in tandem with manned platforms, as part of the carrier air wing, to support limited operations in contested scenarios” the Navy said. The new platform will be called to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance as well as strike operations.
The Navy is preparing for the first carrier deployment of an unmanned platform in 2012, as the Northrop Grumman X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System is cleared for flight testing at sea. That aircraft is a stealthy, strike fighter-size drone designed to demonstrate that the Navy can operate advanced strike UAVs from carrier flight decks. The U.S. Air Force does not currently have an open unmanned combat aircraft program, although the service may have ‘black’ programs of such planes developed in secrecy.
The Pentagon has ordered the Air Force and Navy to suggest the future mix of manned and unmanned airplane in their future fleets, to perform intelligence gathering, attack and long range strike, facing the projected threats posed by potential future adversaries including Russia, China and other rough nations. The Air Force plans to develop a long range strike were postponed, to make funds for more immediate needs. The Air Toward the end of the decade the Air Force is also considering deploying an unmanned, ‘global strike platform’ based on the Falcon platform and the Hypersonic Missile, under development for DARPA by Lockheed Martin.