Monday, July 28, 2014

Boeing issues statement on UCLASS

Today, Etopia News, in pursuit of answers to the intertwined questions of the UCLASS’s capabilities and its status under a proposed ban on killer robots, sent out e-mails to the four potential contractors for the UCLASS air vehicle segment, asking them:

1.       Do you want the RFP for UCLASS to specify a penetrating, stealthy, war-fighting configuration, or one focused on ISR?

2.       Is your company concerned that a high-end capable UCLASS would run afoul of the proposed ban on “autonomous lethal weapons systems” or “killer robots” being sought by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which is being administered by Human Rights Watch and about which you can learn more at:

The one sent to Lockheed Martin bounced, and the ones to Northrop Grumman and General Atomics have not yet elicited a response, but Boeing wrote back, saying:

“Boeing is competing for UCLASS, but due to the competitive nature of the program, we are not prepared to discuss details of our work at this time. I can tell you that Boeing will give the U.S. Navy an affordable UCLASS solution that can provide a persistent Carrier Vessel Nuclear (CVN)-based Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and strike capability supporting 24/7 carrier operational coverage. Boeing has more than 90 years of naval aviation experience including delivering carrier based aircraft to the U.S. Navy. Additionally, Boeing's capabilities-based approach and rapid prototyping allows us to create an affordable, low-risk solution for our customer.”

Friday, July 25, 2014

UCLASS’s status as a “killer robot” is still in doubt

The U.S. Navy has successfully fielded the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System  Demonstrator (UCAS-D), a self-piloting jet plane capable of landing and taking off from an aircraft carrier. 

Now it is pursuing the development of the UCLASS, or Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike system, which may or may not qualify as a “killer robot” subject to a proposed ban on such weapons being sought by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

Read more about the reasoning behind this campaign here:

Etopia News reached out to Human Rights Watch, global coordinator for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and asked if they considered UCLASS a “killer robot.”  Here’s what they had to say:

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is calling for a ban on fully autonomous weapons, i.e., weapons systems that can select and fire on targets without meaningful human intervention. It appears that the UCLASS will have certain autonomous features, such as the ability to take off and land from an aircraft carrier on its own.  But that technology by itself is not problematic for our campaign.  The UCLASS’s categorization as a fully autonomous weapon will ultimately depend on whether or not it has the ability to determine when to use lethal force.  The answer to that question is not clear at this point although the direction the system’s development takes going forward will merit watching.” 

U.S. Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA), who earlier chaired a panel discussion on banning “killer robots” , had no comment on the question of UCLASS’s status in this regard, his office telling Etopia News:

Unfortunately, we have not yet had enough of an opportunity to study that particular system to be able to comment.  I won’t be able to go beyond the materials I’ve already sent you.”


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Objections, Disagreements, and Timetable for UCLASS

Dr. Peter Asaro, vice-chair of the International Campaign for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC), has told Etopia News that:

“Of course… weaponizing the X47B [a UCLASS prototype] would likely be part of a follow-on project and prototype. See

“That said, the prototype X47B has 2 weapons bays, and the spec sheet claims it is designed to carry 4500 lbs of ordinance (  What is unclear is how the targeting and delivery of that ordinance might be controlled (direct human control like Predator/Reaper, pre-programmed GPS coordinates like a Cruise missile, or automatic target recognition).  If it were the latter, automatic target recognition, then it would be an Autonomous Weapon System (AWS), according to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, i.e. a system capable of choosing and attacking targets without meaningful human control.”

Pentagon brass and Congressional advocates spar on specs

 You can learn more about divergence of views between those of top officials at the Pentagon and the Chairman of the Seapower Subcommittee here:

Pentagon is going ahead with the process

Regardless of the possible objections of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots or the disagreements about the appropriate capabilities for the UCLASS systems, the Navy says it is going forward with its RFP and awarding of a contract to build the “air vehicle segment” of that system.  According to a Navy spokesperson on July 24th:

“The Navy plans to release the final RFP this summer for the air vehicle segment. Contract award is planned for mid 2015.”

Unanswered Questions:

Will the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots be able to win a ban on a "lethal and autonomous" UCLASS?  Will the Chairman or the Admiral get the kind of UCLASS he prefers?  Will the UCLASS be able to give the U.S. air superiority in anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) situations?

Get the latest UCLASS news from Etopia News.  Follow Etopia News on Twitter at: @etopianewsnow and on Facebook, at Etopia News.

Will the UCLASS system be a stealthy penetrator or a long-endurance surveillance aircraft?

U.S Representative Randy Forbes (R-VA) wants the U.S. Navy to build an unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike aircraft (UCLASS) with more emphasis on the “strike” than the “surveillance.”  According to his official website:

“History is filled with militaries being caught flat-footed by changes to modern warfare, or actually resisting the adoption of new technologies needed to succeed on the battlefield,” Congressman Forbes said. “The U.S. Congress has often played a critical role in military innovation, whether the dawn of the aircraft carrier or the introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles. America’s future security requires a vigorous Congressional role in military innovation, encouraging the utilization of new technologies and asking the tough questions of our military leaders to ensure a military prepared for the challenges of the 21st century.”


“Like Secretary [of the Navy] Mabus, I strongly believe that the UCLASS program represents the future of our Navy’s carrier air wing and American power projection capabilities. To achieve that goal, UCLASS must include a requirement for aerial refueling, survivability, lethality, and payload to have enduring utility in tomorrow's threat environment. In short, this platform must have the ability to operate and survive in contested environments," Congressman Forbes said. “Getting this program right today is essential to cementing our Navy’s advantages in the decades to come.”

Then there’s this:

Document: House Seapower and Projection Forces Mark on the Fiscal Year 2015 Defense Budget

Section 2XX
Limitation on Availability of Funds for Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System This section would prohibit the Secretary of the Navy from awarding a contract for the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system air vehicle segment until the Secretary of Defense completes a UCLASS requirements review and provides the results of that review to the congressional defense committees

And this:

House Committee Seeks to Stall UCLASS Program Pending New Pentagon Unmanned Aviation Study

"According to Congressional sources, the many HASC [House Armed Services Committee] Congressmen — including sea power chairman Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) — were not pleased with the requirements the Navy set forth for the program.

"Instead of a stealthy deep penetrating strike aircraft that many in the national security establishment had called for, the Navy had instead tailored the requirements for the UCLASS to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions over uncontested airspace with only a light secondary strike capability."

The Senate is concerned as well:

Senate Panel Wants Pentagon to Craft ‘Stable Requirements’ for UCLASS

“The Committee is concerned that the Navy is proceeding with UCLASS development prior to the formal establishment of stable requirements,” reads the SAC [Senate Appropriations Committee]-D mark.

To watch a discussion of the choices faced by the Navy in developing the UCLASS system, see this footage:

Monday, July 21, 2014

IBM says “At the current time there are no formal Watson aspects to this announcement.”

Asked by Etopia News about possible Watson-based developments within the Apple ecosystem, IBM spokesperson Holli Haswell today told Etopia News:

“We are in the earliest stages of the partnership with Apple and are just now beginning to build the apps mentioned in the announcement. At the current time there are no formal Watson aspects to this announcement.”  

The most thoughtful treatment of what a combination of Watson technology and Apple ease-of-use and customer experience could mean for computing and hence the economy and society can be found at: IBM’s Watson could merge with Siri

For a link to this article, and many others about IBM Watson and related issues, visit the Watson Watch Facebook page, at: