Monday, February 1, 2016

UCLASS to become a unmanned aerial tanker.

The Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) effort is being retooled as primarily a carrier-based unmanned aerial refueling platform as part of several Pentagon naval aviation mandates as part if the the service’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget submission, USNI News has learned.

The shift from UCLASS to the new Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System (CBARS) will be made alongside an additional buy of Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets over the next several years and accelerated purchases and development of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

The trio of budget moves seeks to blunt the Navy’s looming strike fighter shortfall, move more stealth capability sooner into the carrier air wing and create a development path for future unmanned systems onboard the service’s fleet of nuclear carriers, according to the rationale the Pentagon put forth to the service several defense officials told USNI News.

The budget submission – in part informed by the Pentagon’s UAV strategic program review (SPR) led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work – will also include 15 F-35C JSFs in 2017 and plan for an additional 14 Super Hornets in FY18, USNI News undersatnds.

“That study found that you need a mix of all of these things,” a defense official told USNI News on Monday.

USNI News understands there may also be efforts to accelerate developments of the Block 3F JSF software – now slated to reach initial operational capability in August 2018 and the major barrier for the Navy to regularly deploy F-35Cs.

The revelation of the budget mandates also comes mere days after the Navy kicked off the Analysis for Alternatives for its next generation air dominance platform – also known as F/A-XX. The program or programs that will replace the capability of the Super Hornets in the early 2030s.

Last year, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said the F-35C would be “almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly,” he said in address at the Navy League’s 2015 Sea-Air-Space Exposition.

Mabus later said UCLASS was to act as the bridge to autonomous unmanned strike platforms and predicted “whatever F/A-XX looks like — it should be unmanned,” he said in May.

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