November 14 1910 for the first time in stories American and world fleet a manned aircraft heavier than air took off from the deck of a warship. A century later, on May 14, 2013, a prototype combat unmanned aerial vehicle created under the UCLASS program took off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. American carrier-based aircraft entered a new era - the era of robots.
The program UCLASS (Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike) provides for the creation of a high-tech reconnaissance-strike unmanned aerial system (BAS) of carrier-based aircraft. According to the initial plan, it was supposed to provide the commanders of aircraft carrier groups and formations with the opportunity to receive comprehensive intelligence information around the clock, while at the same time enabling the launch of an air strike on the most priority (dangerous) targets.
In the interests of the state
In the presentation “The program for creating a demonstrator of an unmanned combat aviation system: a new era of naval aviation?”, Prepared several years ago by Robert Wark, senior vice-president for strategic studies of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Evaluations, and senior scientist of the center Thomas Erhard, emphasized: the interests of our state to preserve and even expand the combat capabilities of aircraft carriers to influence the environment. The inclusion of a combat unmanned aircraft system into the composition of ship wings will allow the aircraft carrier to be transferred from a shock system with global mobility, but too small a radius of reach, to a full-fledged global long-range reconnaissance and shock system that is resistant to the numerous challenges of the 21st century. ”
In turn, the request for the provision of information on the UCLASS program from 19 March 2010 indicated: “The deputy head of naval operations (that is, the commander of the Navy in Russian terminology) indicated the need for an aircraft carrier-based system that should handle reconnaissance missions, observation and reconnaissance, as well as perform shock tasks, which will increase the versatility of aircraft carriers to solve combat missions. Over the next ten years, the Navy intends to focus its efforts on identifying the necessary needs, as well as on developing an unmanned aircraft system that can provide this versatility. In this regard, the Navy is interested in information on the possibility of creating an unobtrusive unmanned aircraft carrier-based system optimized for operations in irregular and mixed combat scenarios, provided that by the end of 2018, its limited use in such scenarios together with manned aircraft wing systems aircraft carrier. This unmanned aircraft system should increase the level of information provision and reduce the time for searching, detecting, tracking, issuing target designation data and destroying priority targets. This request for information is intended to determine the presence of developers who are able to provide a limited number of such systems that can be serviced by naval forces and will be able to solve the above problems. ”
The participants in the tender for the UCLASS program included companies:
For all the importance of the program to create a promising reconnaissance-strike BAS for an aircraft carrier base, the command of the Navy and the leadership of the US Department of Defense did not manage to eliminate the existing differences on a number of important points for a long time. The final request for technical and financial information was sent to companies only in the summer of 2013.
14 August 2013, after a fairly long delay, the US Navy command finally issued contracts for the design of the ship-based UAV design sketch in the UCLASS program.
The decision to issue contracts to all participating companies admitted to the competition at once was quite unexpected. First, the programs of these companies are at significantly different stages of technical readiness, and secondly, the proposed ship-based UAV projects are radically different in the execution scheme - three companies offer drones, made in the “flying wing” scheme and in many respects similar to prototypes developed within the framework of the UCAS-D program that was closed some time ago, and one BLAH is made according to the classical scheme with a swept wing and a V-shaped two-tail tail unit.
As a result, the customer will have to make a choice not only between ideologically similar UAV projects from different manufacturers, but also between two opposing approaches to the creation of a UAV designed for basing on American aircraft carriers. Although in July 2013, in an interview with the magazine Flight, was Rear Admiral Matias Winter, from July 2012, the Acting Program Manager of the development of unmanned aircraft and strike weapons systems at the command of aviation systems of the US Navy, because one of the requirements for a promising deck UAV - Ensuring the best possible stealth, the developer simply has no choice but to use the "flying wing" scheme in the drone.
The cost of contracts is indicated in the amount of 15 million dollars each. The deadline for the work on them is nine months. This is about the UAV, and not about ALS as a whole. “The preliminary design stage will allow the US Navy command to assess the degree of technical risk, the cost and the degree of completion of the project in terms of the aviation segment of the system (Air Segment, that is, the UAV. - A. Sch.), As well as allow design teams to understand in the best possible way and assess the requirements for the entire UCLASS program as a whole, and thus ensure the fastest possible transfer of this system to the fleet, ”explained the program manager for the US Navy Charlie Neva.
The process of selecting a variant of a prospective UAV-based UAV, according to Rear Admiral Winter, takes place in a complicated version - in two stages. The first four bidders issued a request for the provision of first-level information, on the basis of which all developers who agreed to participate in the tender received in August 2013 of the above contracts for the preparation of preliminary sketches of a prospective UAV.
After studying these projects, the customer will issue to applicants a request for the provision of information of the second stage, according to which they will have to prepare a demonstration sample and show its performance (the so-called technology development stage). The request for the second stage, according to Rear Admiral Winter, is planned to be sent in the second quarter of the 2014 of the fiscal year (corresponding to the first quarter of the 2014 of the calendar year).
After examining the results of the companies in both phases, the command of the US Navy, according to data from Rear Admiral Winter, will select the main contractor for the program until the end of 2014. In the first quarter of 2015, the draft of the UAV will be finally approved, and in the same year the main phase of the UCLASS program will be officially launched. The construction of the first UAV of a new type may begin in 2016. Simultaneously with the BAS proper, the development of separate control systems and the basing of new UAVs on American aircraft carriers will begin. According to the published data, during the financial year 2014 – 2020 of the fiscal year, the US Navy command intends to allocate the sum of 3,7 billion dollars for the UCLASS program, while in the fiscal year it is planned to allocate 2014 million dollars, then in the 146,7 is already 2015 million.
According to the calculations of specialists of the command of the aviation systems of the US Navy, it will be three to six years from the start of the development of a prospective UAV until it reaches operational readiness. The first flight of an experienced UAV is planned to be carried out at the turn of the 2016 – 2017 of fiscal years, and a flight test program on board the aircraft carrier at the end of the 2019 of the fiscal year.
According to the requirements of the US Navy command, two combat sorties of prospective UAVs with a duration of 24 hours per day must be performed on every aircraft carrier, subject to the 24-hour operational readiness of the system and the ability to operate at a sufficient tactical distance from the aircraft carrier. Moreover, at any given time in various regions of the planet in the air on a combat mission must be from three to six such reconnaissance-strike UAVs, and the cost of two combat missions per day per aircraft carrier, according to Rear Admiral Winter, should not exceed 150 million dollars . This amount probably includes the cost of the vehicles themselves, their control and support systems, fuel costs and the management and support team, etc. According to a number of American naval experts, with such requirements, the combat crew of the air group of each aircraft carrier should be from four up to six reconnaissance drums UAVs.
In September, 2013 of the year in leading international specialized publications appeared that the Pentagon now plans to consider a priority for a prospective UAV-based UAV, not reconnaissance-strike operations against well-protected objects, but the fight against terrorists. The main reasons for this decision, according to American experts, are the increased threat from international terrorism and the need to reduce program costs (creating an anti-terrorist UAV will cost less than a complex designed for a war with a more or less militarily strong state).
At the same time, representatives of the Pentagon, on condition of anonymity, reported to Western publications: the need for an anti-terrorist UAV-based UAV is due to the fact that its use will be possible without the need to obtain permission from any country to use its territory. An “assassinating drone” on an aircraft carrier can go on a mission at any time, and after its execution will return to a ship in international waters. “Actions from the territory of any country allow the latter to impose any restrictions on our operations,” says Charles Dunlap, the retired US Air Force Major General, “but there will be almost no such restrictions when stationed at sea.”
Congressmen Randy Forbes, chairman of the congress subcommittee on maritime power and expeditionary forces, and Mike McIntyre have already sent a letter to US Navy Minister Ray Meibas asking them to consider expanding the list of tasks assigned to the aviation platform being created under the UCLASS program.
It is likely that just such a radical change in the "philosophy" of the UCLASS program led to delays in issuing requests and contracts, and also to some extent explains the acquisition of a contract by General Atomiks AeroTix Systems, which offers the UAVs of the usual C Schevenger . Today, it’s her drones who hunt for terrorists, and the marine version of this UAV was created on the basis of a more advanced hunter called the Evenger.
However, this move may simply be a trick aimed at distracting the attention of other countries, especially those that are not among the “friends of America”, from the true purpose of the UAV created under the UCLASS program. Moreover, representatives of the US Navy actively oppose the use of a promising UAV carrier-based UAV as the only "terrorist terminator", rightly stating that using an aircraft carrier worth more than 10 billions of dollars only as a forward base for counter-terrorist units is completely unacceptable. Representatives of the industry have already expressed their concerns about this issue. Moreover, a number of American analysts even suggested that with such a formulation of the issue, the candidate companies would simply refuse to participate in the program - it would cost them too much to redesign their UAV projects for new requirements.
Controllers are unhappy
26 September 2013 of the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), which can be viewed as an analogue of the Russian Chamber of Accounts, released the report "The US Navy strategy for an unmanned aircraft carrier-based system does not meet the basic requirements of the oversight mechanism", in which urged congressmen to more closely monitor the implementation of the UCLASS program.
In particular, the authors of the report based on the results of a thorough analysis of information about the program conducted in July-September of 2013 indicate that the US Navy plans to begin allocating the unmanned aerial vehicles from 2014 for the fiscal year under the article developing, building and commissioning six to 24 and training under their base from one to four aircraft carriers 3,7 billion dollars, to conduct a final analysis of the program for the so-called deadline B (Milestone B review), after which both Although the stage of the full development of a specific weapon system officially begins, it intends no earlier than 2020. But by that time, the UAV-based UAVs should have at least entered the pilot operation of the US Navy aircraft carrier forces. As a result, Minister of Defense Chuck Hagel was asked to instruct the naval commanders and the senior officials of the Naval Ministry to conduct a full review of the “target date B” program in the 2015 fiscal year, which will allow Congress to more effectively monitor its implementation as well as customer satisfaction). Otherwise, Congress was recommended to limit funding for the UCLASS program.
The authors of the report also pointed out a number of other risks. In particular, a serious drawback, in their opinion, is that the implementation of the program requires the simultaneous implementation of not only three independent subprojects (creation of a UAV, adaptation of aircraft carriers of the US Navy to the basing of prospective reconnaissance-drone UAVs and the development of appropriate control and monitoring systems) but at the same time implement a number of other US Navy programs that require the development of 22 separate systems and software packages, including the creation and production The development of a new ejection system for launching aircraft (LA) from the deck of aircraft carriers and a promising unified automated system to ensure a high-precision approach and direct landing of the aircraft on an aircraft carrier, the delays in the development of which would jeopardize the success of the planned implementation of the entire UCLASS program. Also, the authors of the report agreed with the representatives of the US Navy that the staff of the department responsible for the implementation of the UCLASS program should be increased from 150 specialists to 300.