Coup de théâtre. The Pentagon has published its draft budget 2017 and it appears that UCLASS ucav programme is abandoned in favour of a drone of in-flight refuelling. It is therefore a surprise while the X-47B, put drone developed by Northrop Grumman under this program, had marked the spirits by being the first UAV to be catapulted from an aircraft carrier at sea on May 14, 2014. He had then made the first landing in the history of combat drones a few months later. Desire to protect the F-35 including the derivative program is still not jammed or immaturity of the drone to attack, the Pentagon gave no explanation. The AviationWeek interview by Web Bush, CEO of Northrop Grumman book sound analysis of the maturity of the X-47B.
The Pentagon ruled: more drone to attack for the Navy
The Cleaver fell. The UCLASS (Carrier-Launched Unmanned Airborne Surveillance and Strike), stealth drone able to take off from an aircraft carrier to hit an enemy in an autonomous way, joined forgotten resting already so many non successful prototypes. The Navy waives its drone and transforms the program UCLASS in CBARS for Carrier – Based Aerial – Refueling System.
An aircraft that will be so totally dedicated to the refuelling of the F/A-18 aircraft and no doubt one day the F-35. The future CBARS will be so very different from the small X-47B the carrying capacity, 2 tons only, seems to be very modest if compared to that of an F/A-18 Super Hornet, which can take more than 7 tonnes of additional fuel tanks. Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman will have to review their copies and create a tanker drone.
In his interview with AviationWeek, CEO of Northrop Grumman highlights the challenge posed by the development of a drone, a device that moves in 3 dimensions to hundreds of mph, in all weathers and in an environment of war electronic and, although obviously, locate and attack targets assigned.
The CEO of Northrop Grumman acknowledges that much code remains to develop
The first challenge was landing and operations aboard an aircraft carrier. In appearance, the X – 47 B has successfully passed this stage, earning Northrop Grumman “Collier Trophy”. The story delivered by Wes Bush wants to landing, the drone strikes very exactly the bridge of the aircraft carrier in the same place, what a human driver would be unable to make.
The Navy even had to ask the manufacturer to allow some differences of trajectory to the X-47B so as not to damage the aircraft carrier deck.
The second stage of development, making the supply drone in flight was passed last April. However, the X – 47B is far from being a weapon system. Wes Bush, the next challenge is to fly the drone in a context of electronic warfare, it means an environment where bindings radios and sensors of the drones will be scrambled. The drone will have to learn to fly without GPS.
The CEO of Northrop Grumman stressed that the development of these technologies is far from linear. Thus, in 1974 the firmware of the first F-16 had only 135,000 lines of code. The F-35 had 7 million at the beginning of its development, in 2006 against 24 million today. The message is cryptic: still much code to write before the descendant of the X-47B a true weapon of war. That is probably why the Navy is going to be satisfied with a tanker drone in a first time before of wanting to have a combat-ready ucav.
Translation : Bing Translator
“Opinion: Wes Bush is the CEO of Northrop Grumman : Enormous Challenges For Autonomous Aircraft”, AviationWeek, February 5, 2016
“Pentagon budget 2017: USN changes course on UCLASS, will add F-35Cs to 2017 budget”, IHS Jane’s 360, February 4, 2016
“Navy’s UCLASS Competition Delayed Until Next Year”, DefenseTech, February 4, 2015
“U.S. Navy delays competition for carrier-based drone to FY16”, Reuters, February 2, 2015