Here’s what the U.S. Navy had to say this morning about the delay in issuing the final request for proposal (RFP) for the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) airframe to the four eligible contractors (General Atomics, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing) who want to build it:
“Defense officials will be including UCLASS in its ISR portfolio review to be conducted in conjunction with the normal budget review process this fall. Determination regarding the release of the UCLASS RFP will be made based on the results of this review.”
One school of thought holds that the UCLASS should be primarily an ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) vehicle, while an opposing group believes that it ought to be a fully-weaponized, stealth, and penetrating one, capable of meeting the challenges posed by China’s increasingly-robust coastal defenses.
Now, what capabilities to ask for in the final UCLASS RFP will be determined within the context of the Pentagon’s overall intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance portfolio of systems and of that department’s overall budget.
News of this development were first reported on Friday, August 29th, by USNI News, a web site operated by the very well-connected United States Naval Institute, in an article entitled “UCLASS RFP Delayed Again Following Pentagon Meeting."
A spokesperson for the Navy told Etopia News that one issue to be considered during the review would be “affordability.”
A more-capable UCLASS would cost considerably more than one dedicated primarily to ISR. The Department of Defense is in the process of down-sizing itself, and so can’t really pursue the development of both types of UCLASS, nor can it decide to build a more-capable attack version without taking its overall spending limits, and limits on its spending on naval aviation, into account.
Inquiries for additional comment from the Navy, and for comment from U.S. Representative Randy Forbes, who is on record calling for a more robust model of UCLASS, and from Northrop Grumman, one of the four contractors who will eventually get the classified RFP, had not been answered as of the time this paragraph was written, at 4:22 pm on Tuesday, September 2, 2014.
There hasn’t yet been much public discussion of the issue of how capable to make the UCLASS, which has significance within the context of planning for any military confrontation with China, for example over the status of Taiwan. The development by China of anti-ship ballistic missiles means that carrier groups, the heart of U.S. offensive power, need to stay further than they might like from possible combat zones. A stealthy, weapons-rich UCLASS airframe might provide capabilities central to success in an anti-access/area denial scenario (A2/AD) that might develop during a U.S.-China confrontation over Taiwan.