Navy to Speed Up Carrier-Launched Combat Drone Program

That's right, the Navy has been told by Pentagon brass to hurry up and figure out a way to get a stealthy, combat drone flying off aircraft carriers by the end of the decade service officials said today.

Two years ago the Navy announced that it planned on fielding a stealthy, fighter-size drone that could perform long-range reconnaissance and strike missions while operating from aircraft carriers, a project known as Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS). The service put out an RfI for the program and numerous defense contractors have begun preparing designs.

So, how does the sea service speed up the process?

It begins by figuring out exactly what it needs the new drones to be able to do and nothing more, a process known as "tightening the requirements." This makes it easier for contractors to pitch the simplest possible design which should help reduce costs and delays. In addition to whittling down its requirements for the plane, the Navy has been told to streamline its actual acquisition process for the jet. We'll see how it does that.

"We've had a statement of need from the Navy that was validated by the joint staff for UCLASS about three weeks ago . . . and we expect to get a memo that tells us to essentially streamline the acquisition on that program and move more quickly," said Rear Adm. William Shannon III, program executive officer for the Navy's unmanned aircraft and strike weapons programs during the Navy League's annual Sea, Air, Space Conference in National Harbor, Md. "We have the [analysis of alternatives] almost done on UCLASS and we're looking at that and we'e looking at essentially making sure that we have managed the appetite on the requirements side and streamlined the acquisition process so that we can get it out to the fleet in a timely fashion."

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