Ever since the Second World War, when the victory of American troops in the Pacific Ocean was largely due to the successful actions of American aircraft carrier formations, aircraft carriers remain a very important part of the US Navy doctrine. Modern aircraft carriers are the very “long arm” that, having actually the status of extraterritoriality, is able to provide the United States with the possibility of strategic force projection both for the fleet command and for the military and political leadership of the country as a whole.
At this point in time, Washington is absolutely confident that amphibious and air groups of constant combat readiness, which use the oceans for their home base, as well as the means of access to the necessary, even the most remote corners of our planet, allow the ILC and the US Navy to cope with all functions assigned to them to ensure the protection of the national interests of the state. We can only agree with this statement: American aircraft carriers with aircraft on board located in international waters do not require permission from other countries to base, as well as to make flights or intermediate landings of aircraft.
But time is inexorable, it does not stand still - periodically in the military-technical and military-political spheres there are changes that force the world's leading world states to reconsider, in some cases, the role of certain types of weapons in future wars and ensure national security. Over the past few years, American naval experts and strategists have been quite actively engaged in revising the status of national naval and aircraft carrier formations, proposing to significantly expand the range of tasks they accomplish, and also to achieve an increase in the combat potential of subunits.
In the next 4-year defense policy review, which was prepared by the US defense department as early as 2006, the main tasks that the US military would have to solve in the 21st century were quite clearly defined. Among them: the comprehensive defense of the country; the destruction of terrorist networks and the fight against radical extremists; the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as well as the creation and implementation in practice of measures in case of the emergence of force or forces that can compete with the United States in the military sphere of activity
Effectively, to solve tasks within this strategy was planned, among other things, by creating “unified aviation platforms” that would have an increased range, as well as an increased ability to conduct long-term hostilities with better secrecy and increased capabilities for using “unified multidimensional network structure. Among these aircraft platforms a special place will have to take UAVs - combat unmanned aerial vehicles.
Subjecting this concept to practice, the command of the US Navy launched a rather ambitious program, which received the designation UCLASS - Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike. This program provides for the development of high-tech reconnaissance-strike unmanned aircraft systems (BAS) based on aircraft carriers. In the highest military-political circles of the United States, they believe that the implementation of this program is able to provide commanders of naval units and aircraft carrier groups with the opportunity to receive comprehensive, up-to-date intelligence information around the clock while simultaneously having the ability to quickly launch missile and bombing strikes on the priority and most dangerous for the moment for goals.
As part of this program, in August 2013, contracts were concluded with a number of US companies worth $ 15 million each. At the same time, the Pentagon allocated funds to all 4 companies that expressed their desire to participate in the program and responded to a request for information on the development of a prospective reconnaissance-strike UAS of a sea-based program. Their versions of the drone are ready to provide the company Northrop Grumman (based on their X-47В demonstrator), Boeing (based on the Ghost Ramp demonstrator), Lockheed Martin (with its promising Sea Ghost BLA) and General Atomix Aeronautical Systems ”(proposed by the naval UAV Marine Avenger to the military).
The decision to issue contracts to 4 at once to the participating companies looks at least unexpected. First of all, for the simple reason that all these programs are at different stages of technical readiness and study. And secondly, these ship-based UAV projects differ according to the execution scheme - 3 companies offer military UAVs to the court, which represent the implementation of the “flying wing” scheme, and one UAV is made according to the currently traditional scheme - swept wing in combination with tail V-shaped two-tail. Thus, the customer is offered a choice not only between similar projects of drones from different companies, but also between two completely different approaches to their creation.
After the military have finished studying draft designs prepared by companies, they will issue to applicants a request for information from the 2 phase of work - providing a demonstration model to test its performance (technology development stage). The second phase of work is scheduled for the 1 quarter of the calendar year 2014. After the military have finished studying the results of the work on both phases of the program, the general contractor for the project will be determined by the end of 2014. The construction of the first UAV can be expected already in 2016 year. Simultaneously with the creation of a direct drone, work will begin on the creation of separate control systems and the basing of new aircraft on aircraft carriers. In total, according to published documents, the Pentagon is ready to allocate billion dollars for the implementation of the UCLASS 3,7 program.
According to the calculations of the American specialists of the US Navy, 3-6 years will pass from the moment of the start of work on the creation of a prospective ship-based UAV until the state of operational readiness has been reached. The first flight of the vehicle will have to take place in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, and the flight test program on board the aircraft carrier at the end of the 2019 fiscal year. Consider all four projects of promising US ship-based UAVs in more detail.
X-47B Pegasus - Northrop Grumman (Pegasus)
On February 4, 2011, the X-47B drone made its first flight, the device spent 29 minutes in the air, all of its systems worked in normal mode. On May 14, 2013 the device successfully took off from the aircraft carrier "George Bush". The device was designed using stealth technologies in the radar spectrum, made according to the "tailless" scheme. The drone is equipped with a Pratt & Whitney F100-220U jet engine, which does not have an afterburner, the engine is able to develop a thrust of 79,1 kN. It is assumed that this unit will be equipped with an air refueling system, as well as electronic warfare equipment, a set of reconnaissance equipment, guided bombs and guided missiles.
It is expected that this drone in the future can be installed and promising percussion systems, for example, microwave weapon or laser systems. It is planned that the ship's drone will be able to perform various combat missions continuously for 2-4 days, rising to a height of 12,2 thousand meters. Curious is the fact that the Pegasus, whose dimensions are comparable to the size of a fighter, may be used by the military as a flying tanker for refueling air force fighters of the Air Force or the US Navy, as well as drones equipped with a refueling system.
The X-47V UAV has a forward-stretched pentagonal fuselage and a swept wing with a span of 18,93 m.The length of the vehicle will be 11,64 m, width with folded wing - 9,42 m, height with folded wing - 5,27 m, in normal position - 3,17 m. It uses the following power plant - turbojet engine Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220U, which allows the device to develop a cruising speed at the level of M = 0,9. At one refueling, the drone will be able to fly about 3889 km, and the maximum flight duration on one refueling is 6 hours. The practical ceiling of the apparatus is 12 190 m. The maximum take-off weight is 20 215 kg. In two compartments, which can be used to accommodate various combat loads, it will be possible to place weapons weighing up to 2 tons.
Phantom Ray - Boeing (Ghost Ramp)
For the first time, the general public BLA, a demonstrator of Phantom Ray technology, was shown on 10 on May 2010 of the year, and interested persons could get acquainted with its characteristics at the Farnborough air show in the summer of that year. 18 November 2010, the drone began to conduct the first runs on the airfield, at which time its onboard system independently contacted the ground command post, from which it received all the necessary commands and data, after which Phantom Ray independently moved at a low speed on the runway. The first independent flight of the car took place on 27 on April 2011.
Phantom Ray is the successor to the previous shipboard X-45A UAV program. It is also made according to the tailless scheme and has a jet engine. The aircraft is built using stealth technology and is designed to solve a fairly wide range of tasks - observation and reconnaissance, reconnaissance, bombardment, suppression of enemy air defense systems, EW. It is reported that the drone will be equipped with an in-flight refueling system.
Phantom Ray drone, whose wingspan will be 15,2 m., Will be able to fly at a speed of about 980 km / h, flying to a distance of 2500 km. Since the device is created using stealth technology, it received internal compartments to accommodate various weapons, it is worth noting that its exact nomenclature is still unknown. The mass of the combat load should be up to 2-x tons. According to representatives of Boeing, the device will be able to be in the air for 16-18 hours.
The Ghost Ramp UAV currently has the following performance characteristics: Wingspan - 15,2 m, length - 10,9 m, maximum take-off weight - 16 556 kg, payload mass - 2 000 kg. The General Electric TRDD F404-GE-102D installed on it will support cruising speed at the level of 980 km / h, as well as the flight range to 2400 km. The practical UAV ceiling will be 12 200 m. In 2 internal armaments, they can fit up to 2 X-controlled JDAM bombs with 900 kg or a variety of special or reconnaissance equipment, including a combined optical-electronic / thermal imaging surveillance system or radar with synthesized beam aperture .
Sea Ghost - Lockheed Martin (Sea Ghost)
As an alternative to the two previous models, Lockheed Martin is promoting its Sea Ghost UAV, which is built on the basis of the developments gained by the company when creating the F-35C ship-based fighter and the unobtrusive reconnaissance drone RQ-170 Sentinel. Information about this development in the public domain is extremely small. The construction of a full-size model of the device was completed only in April of this year.
The model presentation was held in April 2013 of the year within the framework of the exhibition / conference of the naval, aviation and space systems of the US Navy League, which is annual. As part of this presentation, representatives of Lockheed Martin told that their new drone will be developed by a separate division of Skunk Works. The device is built according to the “flying wing” scheme and assumes maximum borrowing of various solutions in the field of stealth, as well as other developments that the company's engineers obtained by implementing the F-35C program (the technology of the stealth coating will be borrowed from it) and a number of other programs . At the same time, the creators noted that their new UAS is able to solve various combat missions in any conditions - from the fight against terrorists to the ground attack of land and water targets.
According to representatives of Lockheed Martin, the Sea Ghost drone will receive an open side architecture, which in the future will allow for the modernization of its avionics without any problems. Bob Ruzhkovski, director of the UCLASS program at the company, noted that the fleet command had made it clear that it needed such an opportunity as to place on board the UCLASS any of the most modern and new systems. Open architecture will solve this problem.
Sea Avenger - General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (Marine Avenger)
The company General Atomics had a good time to “get a hand” on the release of its main product - the famous UAV Predator and Reaper for the needs of the CIA and the USAF. In this regard, the UAV "Sea Avenger" is a follower of these successful vehicles, received a jet engine. It differs from its ancestors in higher flight speed and lower visibility. At the same time, the apparatus (the only one of them) is built according to the classical scheme - with a swept wing and a tail V-shaped two-quill tail.
The General Atomics deck-based UAV, which has a wing span of 20 meters, does not have such a rich pedigree as the projects of the Boeing and Northrop companies, but it also has its advantages. General Atomics specialists expect to equip their offspring with completely new target detection systems, in particular, this is a compact radar reconnaissance with synthetic aperture, which will increase its capabilities for detecting ground and surface targets and high-resolution thermal imaging cameras. Exactly the same are already installed on board the modern American unified strike fighter F-35. It is reported that the system of avionics of this aircraft will have a triple reservation.
The combat load of this UAV will most likely be placed not only in the internal weapons compartment, but also on the external suspension nodes, which will immediately be 6 units. The nomenclature of weapons used by the drone seems to be quite extensive. Combat calculation of the drone will need to make 2 operator located in the control room.
While the US military was sending out proposals for designing a new unmanned aerial vehicle, General Atomics specialists managed to prepare the 2 version of their car. The second prototype, which managed to fly around 12 on January 2012, is distinguished by an elongated fuselage for 1,22 meters, which in turn made it possible to take on more payload and fuel.
The second prototype of the "Marine Avenger" has a swept wing span of 20,12 m and a sweep angle along the leading edge of 17 degrees. The length of the UAV is about 13 m, the power plant used is the Pratt & Whitney PW545B turbojet engine, which develops a thrust of 18,32 kN and provides the device with a maximum flight speed of 740 km / h. Cruising speed is about 650 km / h. The declared flight duration is at least 18 hours (if an additional fuel tank is placed in the internal bomb bay - 20 hours), the practical ceiling is 15 240 m.The maximum take-off weight of the drone is 8 255 kg, the maximum payload is 2948 kg (including inside fuselage - 1588 kg).