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Thread: X-47B is afloat

  1. #76
    Senior Contributor surfgun's Avatar
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    PATUXENT RIVER, Md., May 2 (UPI) -- Northrop Grumman’s X-47B unmanned combat air system is to undergo ramped-up testing in preparation for new sea trials, the U.S. Navy reports.
    The X-47B is an unmanned aerial vehicle, which will enter service with the Navy in 2020, is the size of a normal combat jet and is designed for launch and recovery from an aircraft carrier.

    The U.S. Naval Air Systems Command said the latest series of shore-based tests will be conducted from its Patuxent River facility in Maryland and are aimed at maturing air traffic control and ground support standard operating procedures for “co-use of airspace between unmanned and manned aircraft during day and nighttime operations.”

    “Continuing to fly the X-47B in the Patuxent River air space will further exercise the research, test, development and evaluation infrastructure with an unmanned air system,” said Capt. Beau Duarte, program manager for Unmanned Carrier Aviation at Patuxent River. “These tests are a build-up for the next carrier event this summer.”

    The X-47B, as in the past, will again embark on USS Theodore Roosevelt sometime in August. The sea-based testing will be to perfect flight deck operations for the aircraft and for integrating the platform with manned aircraft.

    “We are working toward a new set of firsts for the X-47B,” said Matt Funk, X-47B lead test engineer. “We’ll test the new capabilities of the X-47B wing-fold and tailhook retract system, and will demonstrate compatibility with a carrier jet-blast deflector on the flight deck for the first time.”

    Added Capt. Duarte: “This at-sea period will mark the first time manned aircraft and the X-47B will operate together on the flight deck.”

  2. #77
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    USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, At Sea (NNS) -- The Navy's unmanned X-47B returned to carrier operations aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Aug. 17 and completed a series of tests, operating safely and seamlessly with manned aircraft.

    Building on lessons learned from its first test period aboard TR in November 2013, the X-47B team is now focused on perfecting deck operations and performing maneuvers with manned aircraft in the flight pattern.

    "Today we showed that the X-47B could take off, land and fly in the carrier pattern with manned aircraft while maintaining normal flight deck operations," said Capt. Beau Duarte, program manager for the Navy's Unmanned Carrier Aviation office. "This is key for the future Carrier Air Wing."

    The first series of manned/unmanned operations began this morning when the ship launched an F/A-18 and an X-47B. After an eight-minute flight, the X-47B executed an arrested landing, folded its wings and taxied out of the landing area. The deck-based operator used newly developed deck handling control to manually move the aircraft out of the way of other aircraft, allowing the F/A-18 to touch down close behind the X-47B's recovery.

    This cooperative launch and recovery sequence will be repeated multiple times over the course of the planned test periods. The X-47B performed multiple arrested landings, catapults, flight deck taxiing and deck refueling operations.

    "For this test period, we really focused on integration with manned aircraft," said Lt. Cmdr Brian Hall, X-47B flight test director. "We re-engineered the tailhook retract actuator and updated operating software to expedite wingfold during taxi, both of which reduce time in the landing area post-recovery. Our goal was to minimize the time in the landing area and improve the flow with manned aircraft in the landing pattern."

    "The X-47B's air vehicle performance, testing efficiency and safety technologies and procedures developed and tested throughout the program's execution have paved the way for the Navy's future carrier-based unmanned system capability," said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons.

    The X-47B will remain aboard CVN 71 for the duration of the underway period. It will perform additional cooperative deck and flight operations with F/A-18s and complete night deck handling and flying quality evaluations.

    The Navy will continue X-47B flight operations over the next year to refine the concept of operations to demonstrate the integration of unmanned carrier-based aircraft within the carrier environment and mature technologies for the future Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike system.


    Video of the launching and recovery can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqiOzO8yV4A

  3. #78
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    NORFOLK, VIRGINIA — — It was one small button push for man and one giant catapult launch for the Navy’s unmanned air combat program Sunday as the X-47B flew its first takeoffs and landings with F/A-18s on the aircraft carrier Roosevelt.

    Off the Virginia coast, two Hornets and one X-47B practiced launches and traps in the same pattern, testing the unmanned jet’s ability to take off and land safely, then move out of the way to allow a manned aircraft to come in right behind it.

    It was a first for the Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System Aircraft Carrier Demonstration program, said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, program executive officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons at Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Maryland.

    The testing was an important step in the Navy’s push to advance its aerial strike and surveillance technology, figuring out where unmanned capabilities can enhance the effectiveness of the carrier air wing.

    “It’s not an unmanned over all others,” Winter said. “It’s a blending of manned and unmanned capabilities.”

    The X-47B isn’t like other unmanned aerial systems. For starters, it’s bigger than a fighter jet, with a 62-foot wingspan, 17 feet wider than the F/A-18E Super Hornet.

    It also operates autonomously, rather than having a pilot on the ground moving a joystick and throttle. It flies preprogrammed routines, so the deck operator only controls the jet while it’s moving in and out of position on the flight deck. From there, it’s a series of button pushes to make it fly.

    The X-47B flew about half a dozen programs during the demonstration, said UCAS-D program manager Capt. Beau Duarte. Those included takeoff, flying downwind, turning around to the back of the carrier, landing, folding its wings and others, he said.

    The goal for the day was to launch and land the Hornets within 90 seconds of the X-47B. After a couple tries, the team was able to land the X-47B, fold its wings and move it out of the way to make way for the manned jet within 90 seconds.

    A regular Hornet wing lands jets at closer to 60-second intervals, Winter said. As tests continue into the week, Duarte said they would try to tighten up the times if possible.

    “We’ll see what level of interaction between the two aircraft we can achieve, and we will let that feed our future concept of operations,” he said.

    The next program goal is to try an aerial refueling of the unmanned aircraft, which requires new software programming, Duarte said.

    The X-47B is funded through fiscal year 2015, but beyond that its future is unknown. However, its technology will feed into the follow-on Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program, Winter said.

    Once the UCLASS hits the fleet in 2020 to 2021, the Navy will figure out who will operate the aircraft and how it fits into the current carrier air wing structure.

    “Whether that person is a pilot, a naval flight officer or enlisted, we will figure it out in those early operational deployments,” Duarte said.

    From there, feedback will determine whether X-47B’s surveillance and strike capabilities are more suited to a stand-alone squadron, Winter said, or perhaps as part of an E-2 Hawkeye surveillance or F/A-18 attack squadron.
    Navy flies manned, unmanned carrier jets together for first time | Navy Times | navytimes.com

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    Essay: The Legal and Moral Problems of Autonomous Strike Aircraft

    By: Dave Majumdar
    Published: August 21, 2014 4:55 PM
    The U.S. Navy’s move toward developing a carried-based unmanned combat aircraft might eventually afford the service the ability to strike targets at long-range, but there are ethical and legal questions that linger should the Pentagon develop a fully autonomous system.

    As currently envisioned, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) will be autonomous, but it will have a “man-on-the-loop” according to Rear Adm. Mat Winter, the Naval Air Systems Command’s Program Executive Officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons. But the UCLASS is not going to be a penetrating strike aircraft such as many senior defense officials, academics and analysts had hoped. In fact, serious legal and ethical dilemmas might arise if the Pentagon were to pursue an unmanned penetrating strike aircraft.

    There are many senior Pentagon officials—including Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work—who argue for a deep penetrating unmanned strike aircraft that would launch from a carrier if the United States were serious about its “pivot” to the Pacific. But potential adversaries, such as Russia and China, are not stupid, and are certain to attack the vulnerable data-links that control such an unmanned bomber via electronic and cyber attacks.

    One recently retired Navy official acknowledged that giving such a warplane full autonomy—to include launching weapons without prior human consent—might be the only effective way for a long-range unmanned strike aircraft to operate in a theater where the United States faces off against a near-peer potential adversary, but the prospect of such a system raises legal and moral questions.
    In the Western Pacific, China is building up its anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities—including communications jamming, cyber-warfare and anti-satellite weapons. In the event of a conflict, Chinese forces are likely to attack those vital communications links than enable U.S. forces to operate cohesively. In those communications degraded/communications denied environments, unless a system is manned, autonomy might be the only way to go.

    For the Navy there is an added dimension, as was postulated by Jan van Tol, Mark Gunzinger, Andrew Krepinevich and Jim Thomas at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments: the service’s aircraft carriers no longer have a haven in coastal waters 200 nautical miles offshore. With the rising threats to the aircraft carrier in the form of antiship cruise and ballistic missiles, those ships may be forced to stand off a significant distance—more than 1,000 nautical miles—from the enemy shoreline.

    Additionally, with the proliferation of advanced integrated air-defense networks and low-frequency radars that can detect and track low-observable targets, existing stealth aircraft may not have the range or the survivability to operate in those theaters.

    In that case, the best option for the Navy might be to develop a long-range unmanned strike aircraft with wide-band all-aspect stealth technology that would be able to persist inside even the densest of enemy air defenses. By necessity, given that such an advanced adversary would be able to deny or degrade communications significantly, such an aircraft would have to be fully autonomous. In other words, the unmanned aircraft would have to be able to operate independently of prolonged communications with its human masters and it would also need to be able to make the decision to release weapons without phoning home for a human operator’s consent.

    Moreover, the U.S. Air Force also faces basing challenges in the Western Pacific, as existing air bases such as Kadena and Misawa in Japan and Andersen Air Force Base in Guam are vulnerable to concerted air and missile attacks. A very stealthy long-range autonomous unmanned strike aircraft could be used to complement the service’s prospective Long Range Strike Bomber—going into places that are far too dangerous for a manned aircraft or to perform missions like stand-in jamming from inside hostile territory.

    While the initial cost of developing such an autonomous unmanned aircraft might be high, there might be significant savings longer-term. An autonomous unmanned aircraft only needs to be flown occasionally during peacetime to keep-up the proficiency of maintainers. Further, an autonomous aircraft has no need to fly training sorties or to practice—a computer can simply be programmed to do what needs to be done.

    Additionally, such an autonomous unmanned aircraft would not need downtime between deployments—just the occasional depot-level maintenance overhaul. That means that the Navy—or the Air Force, if it bought some—would need only as many aircraft as required to fill the number of deployed carriers and account for attrition reserves and planes laid up in depot maintenance. There could also be significant personnel cost savings because a fully autonomous aircraft would not require pilots and the smaller fleet would require fewer maintainers.

    The technology to develop and build such an aircraft mostly already exists. Most current unmanned aircraft like the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper are remotely controlled by a human operator. Others—like the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton or RQ-4B Global Hawk—have far more autonomy but are not armed. Nonetheless, there are already a number of autonomous weapon systems that are either in service or that have reached the prototype stage that can engage hostile targets without human intervention.

    Perhaps the two most obvious examples are cruise missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Once those weapons are launched, they proceed autonomously to their preprogrammed targets without any human intervention.

    If one were to imagine a U.S. Navy destroyer launching a Tomahawk cruise missile at a fixed target somewhere in the Western Pacific, there is a sequence of events that would be followed. The crew of the destroyer would receive orders to attack a particular target. The crew would then program that information into the missile. Once launched, the Tomahawk navigates its way to the target in a manner similar to a manned aircraft, but completely without human intervention.

    Against a fixed target, for example a bunker or factory, a fully autonomous unmanned air vehicle would be very similar to a cruise missile. Like a Tomahawk cruise missile, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) would receive a particular target location and instructions for how to engage that target with the correct weapons. Like the Tomahawk, the UAV would be able to navigate to that target completely autonomously. If the UAV were then to engage that fixed-target with a Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) or some other weapon, in practical terms, there is no real difference between an unmanned aircraft and a cruise missile. The effect would be identical. The only change would be that the UAV could make a second pass, fly onto another target, or fly home to be rearmed. And it could be argued with its jet engine and wings, a Tomahawk is really just a small UAV on a one-way trip.

    The more challenging scenario comes when there is an unexpected “pop-up” threat such an S-400 surface-to-air missile battery that might be encountered by an autonomous unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) during a wartime sortie. Human pilots are assumed to inherently have the judgment to decide whether or not to engage such a threat. But those human pilots are making their decisions based on sensor information that is being processed by the aircraft’s computer. In fact, the pilot is often entirely dependent upon the aircraft’s sensors and the avionics to perform a combat identification of a contact.

    The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter epitomize this concept—especially in the realm of beyond visual range air-to-air combat. Both the Raptor and the F-35 fuse data correlated from the aircraft’s radar, electronic support measures and other sensors into a track file that the computer identifies as hostile, friendly or an unknown. The pilot is entirely reliant upon the computer to determine a proper combat identification; it would be a very small technological step for the system to engage targets autonomously without human intervention.

    The air-to-ground arena is somewhat more challenging due to target location errors that are inherent in sensors and navigation systems (and also environmental effects and enemy camouflage). But with a combination of electro-optical/infrared cameras, synthetic aperture radar, ground moving target indication radar or even hyperspectral sensors, a computer can ascertain a positive combat identification of ground targets—assuming that the data being gathered is geo-registered. Once the computer can determine a positive identification—either a manned or unmanned aircraft—can engage a target. But at the end of the day, the computer is still making the determination that a contact is hostile.

    In fact autonomous systems capable of identifying and attacking targets at their own discretion have existed in the past. One example is the Northrop AGM-136 Tacit Rainbow anti-radiation cruise missile, which was canceled in 1991. It was designed to be pre-programmed for a designated target area, over which it would loiter. It would remain in that designated box until it detected emissions from hostile radar. Once the Tacit Rainbow detected and identified an enemy emitter, the missile would zero in for the kill—all without any human intervention.

    A later example is the Lockheed Martin Low-Cost Autonomous Attack System. The now-defunct miniature loitering cruise missile demonstrator was guided by GPS/INS to a target box. It would then use laser radar to illuminate targets and match them with pre-loaded signatures. The weapon would then go after the highest priority target while at the same time selecting the appropriate mode for the warhead to best engage the target autonomously without human intervention.

    Other prominent examples include the Aegis combat system, which in its full automatic mode can engage multiple aircraft or missiles simultaneously without human intervention. Similarly, the shipboard Close-in Weapons System or Phalanx has an autonomous engagement capability.

    What all of that means is that fully autonomous combat identification and engagement is technically feasible for unmanned aircraft—given sophisticated avionics and smart precision guided weapons. But while technically fully autonomous unmanned combat aircraft are feasible, what of the moral and legal implications?

    The Pentagon has already preemptively issued policy guidance on the development and operational use of autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons in November 2012. DOD directive 3000.09 states: “Autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems shall be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force.” But the policy does not expressly forbid the development of a fully autonomous lethal weapon systems, it merely states that senior Pentagon leadership would closely supervise any such development.

    In order to prevent what the Defense Department calls an “unintended engagement”, those who authorize or direct the operation of autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems are required use “appropriate care and in accordance with the law of war, applicable treaties, weapon system safety rules and applicable rules of engagement,” the policy states.

    Thus it would seem that the U.S. government views the use of autonomous weapon systems as legal under the laws of war–provided certain conditions are met. Indeed, a number of lawyers specializing in national security law have suggested that fully autonomous weapons are lawful. The responsibility for the use of such weapon would ultimately fall to the person who authorized its employment—which is similar to any other manned weapon.

    But there are those who are adamantly opposed to any fully autonomous weapon systems—organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW). In a November 2012 report titled “Losing Humanity: The Case against Killer Robots,” HRW called for an international treaty that would preemptively ban all autonomous weapons. In fact it is likely that the DOD policy guidance on the development of autonomous weapons stems from the conclusions of the HRW report.

    The HRW report makes three recommendations. The first: “Prohibit the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons through an international legally binding instrument. The second: “Adopt national laws and policies to prohibit the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons.” The third: “Commence reviews of technologies and components that could lead to fully autonomous weapons. These reviews should take place at the very beginning of the development process and continue throughout the development and testing phases.”

    HRW asserts that autonomous systems are unable to meet the standards set forth under international humanitarian law. “The rules of distinction, proportionality and military necessity are especially important tools for protecting civilians from the effects of war, and fully autonomous weapons would not be able to abide by those rules,” the report states.

    But critics, such as legal scholar Benjamin Wittes at the Brookings Institution. have challenged such statements. Wittes has written that there are situations where machines can “distinguish military targets far better and more accurately than humans can.” Indeed, those familiar with unmanned technology, sensor hardware and software can attest that is indeed the case.

    If a computer is given a certain set of parameters—for example a series of rules of engagement—it will follow those instructions precisely. If the autonomous weapon is designed and built to operate within the laws of war, then there should be no objection to their use. Under Article 36 of the 1977 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, weapons cannot be inherently indiscriminate and are prohibited from causing unnecessary suffering or superfluous injury. “The fact that an autonomous weapon system selects the target or undertakes the attack does not violate the rule,” Hoover Institution legal scholars Kenneth Anderson and Matthew Waxman wrote in a their paper “Law and Ethics For Autonomous Weapon Systems.”

    Technology is continuously moving forward and while autonomous systems may not be able to operate under all circumstances, it may only be a matter of time before engineers find a technical solution. While under many circumstances—with the right sensors and algorithms—autonomous systems would have the ability to distinguish lawful targets from unlawful targets, but that is not currently the case under all circumstances. Thus there are some limitations inherent to autonomous weapon systems for the time being.

    However, those limitations will not always be there as technology continues its march forward and engineers continue to make progress. As Wittes correctly points out, “To call for a per se ban on autonomous weapons is to insist as a matter of IHL [international humanitarian law] on preserving a minimum level of human error in targeting.” Machines are generally far more precise than human beings.

    Along with being able to distinguish between targets, the law requires that combatants weigh the proportionality of their actions. “Any use of a weapon must also involve evaluation that sets the anticipated military advantage to be gained against the anticipated civilian harm,” Anderson and Waxman write. “The harm to civilians must not be excessive relative to the expected military gain.”

    Though technically challenging, a completely autonomous weapon system would have to be required to address proportionality as well as distinction. But the difficulty is entirely dependent upon the specific operational scenario. For example, while an unmanned aircraft could identify and attack a hostile surface-to-air missile system deep behind enemy lines or an enemy warship at sea—where there is little chance of encountering civilians—targets inside a highly populated area are more difficult to prosecute.

    Some of the most difficult scenarios—which would not necessarily be a factor in a high-end campaign against an A2/AD threats–would be challenging for a human pilot, let alone a machine. For example during counter-insurgency campaign, if there were two school buses driving side-by-side in a built-up area, but one of the vehicles was carrying nuns and the other carrying heavily-armed terrorists, it would be very difficult for a human pilot to determine which bus is the proper target until one of them commits a hostile act. The same would be true for an autonomous system—but in the near-term, it could be a technological challenge.

    The human pilot would also have to determine what kind of weapon to use—judging the proportionality. Does he or she select a 2.000-pound JDAM or a smaller 250-pound small diameter bomb, or 20mm cannon, or do nothing since the risk of civilian casualties is too high? Likewise, an autonomous weapon system would need to be programmed to select an appropriate low collateral damage munition or to disengage if the danger of civilian casualties were too great once the target has been positively identified. But it would take time and investment before such an autonomous system could become a reality.

    Thus, for the near future, autonomous weapons would have to be developed incrementally starting with systems that could engage fixed targets and “obviously” military targets like surface-to-air missile sites or tank columns on the open battlefield during a conventional war. Likewise, in the maritime environment, where there are few civilians to speak of, autonomous systems could offer huge advantages with little in the way of any drawbacks.

    Additionally, for the time being, autonomous weapons should not be utilized in complex scenarios—such as counter-insurgency–where there is significant possibility that it could cause inadvertent civilian casualties or unintended collateral damage. It may also be unwise to use a fully autonomous UCAV for missions like close air support—particularly during “danger close” type situations where friendly troops are in close contact with the enemy—until the technology has been proven operationally in other roles. Human pilots have a hard enough time with those types of missions.

    While at present there are some technological limitations that do exist, those are not likely to remain to roadblocks forever. Autonomous technology is advancing rapidly and could one day be precise and reliable enough to not only distinguish correct targets but could also make proportionality judgments in complex scenarios based on parameters programmed into the machine. Those parameters would not be unlike rules of engagement given to human operators. Already, cameras and software exist that can identify individual human faces for example. Once a target is precisely identified, it would not be a huge leap then for an autonomous system to use a low-collateral damage weapons to eliminate hostile targets while minimizing any harm to civilians.

    Much of the objection to fully autonomous weapons seems to stem from a sense of “fair play” rather than any real legal issues—most of which are likely to be overcome. But any time new weapons technology emerges, there is opposition from those who believe that the technology fundamentally unbalances war. Objections have been raised throughout history to new technologies—ranging from crossbows and longbows, to machine-guns and submarines—because the use of such weapons was considered to the “unfair” or “unsporting.” But ultimately, the use of such weapons became a fact of life. War is not a game, and as U.S. Air Force Col. Lawrence Spinetta, commander of the 69th Reconnaissance Group said: “Isn’t there a moral imperative on the part of a nation to minimize danger for its soldiers and airmen?”

    Indeed there is no legal requirement for war to be fair—in fact throughout history war has been anything but. “The law, to be sure, makes no requirement that sides limit themselves to the weapons available to the other side; weapons superiority is perfectly lawful and indeed assumed as part of military necessity,” write Anderson and Waxman.

    Essay: The Legal and Moral Problems of Autonomous Strike Aircraft - USNI News

  5. #80
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    Release Date: 8/28/2014 3:50:00 AM
    From Naval Air Systems Command Public Affairs
    ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- The Navy's X-47B completed its final test aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Aug. 24 and returned to its home base at Naval Air Station Patuxent River after eight days at sea.

    While underway, the X-47B flew in the carrier pattern with manned aircraft for the first time and conducted a total of five catapult launches, four arrestments and nine touch-and-go landings, including a night time shipboard flight deck handling evaluation.

    "This is another detachment for the record books; all tests were safely and effectively executed," said Capt. Beau Duarte, Navy's Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager. "We have set the bar for the future of unmanned carrier aviation."

    Testing began Aug. 17 when the X-47B performed its initial cooperative launch and recovery cycle with an F/A-18. With its automatic wing-fold capability and new tailhook retract system, the X-47B met the program's objective to demonstrate that carrier-based manned and unmanned aircraft could maintain a 90 second aircraft launch and recovery interval.

    Throughout the week, the Navy/Northrop Grumman test team captured X-47B flying quality and recovery wind condition data to evaluate how the aircraft responds to wake turbulence during approach and landing. This data will be used to improve a simulation model for use with carrier-based aircraft.

    The team also evaluated how the unmanned aircraft performed during the first night time taxi and deck handling operations aboard a carrier. Since the shipboard environment presents different challenges at night, this test was an incremental step in developing the operational concept for more routine unmanned air system flight activity.

    "We conducted X-47B night flight deck operations to understand the human interface and suitability of the unmanned air vehicle and deck operator's hand-held control unit in the night environment," said Barbara Weathers, X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System lead. "These lessons learned will help with the development of future unmanned platforms."

    The Navy will continue to execute shore-based testing at Patuxent River to further the goal of seamless integration with manned aircraft and to refine best practices for the evaluation of future unmanned air systems.
    http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=82980

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    NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — There are no plans to extend the testing for its Unmanned Carrier Air Vehicle demonstrator (UCAS-D) program after this month’s planned autonomous aerial refueling (AAR) tests, Naval Air Systems Command officials said on Tuesday.

    Following the end of the testing contract the service plans to donate the two Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned aerial vehicles — Salty Dog 501 and Salty 502 — to a museum or resign them to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. — the Pentagon’s so-called aircraft “boneyard,” said Capt. B.V. Duarte, program manager of NAVAIR’s PMA-268 that oversees UCAS-D and the Navy’s planned Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) programs.

    Despite call in Congress to extend testing on the Northrop platforms, Duarte said not only had the Navy completed the testing plan for the X-47s but also the costs to reconfigure the Salty Dogs to behave more like the Navy’s preferred option for UCLASS would be prohibitive.

    “From a X-47 perspective, I don’t see the tie, necessarily,” he told USNI News following the briefing.
    “Given the differences between the X-47 and the UCLASS and the amount of money it would take to make it a more useful risk reduction platform” it would be cost prohibitive.

    NAVAIR said the scope of the planned testing included the catapult launch and arrested recovery aboard a Navy aircraft carrier — both which occurred on the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) in 2013 — as well as an autonomous aerial refueling test.

    Following Salty Dog 502’s successful trap on Bush, NAVAIR had planned to retire the X-47Bs and continue the AAR tests with a surrogate aircraft. However Navy leadership weighed in and recommended extending the testing schedule eventually resulting in a $64 million contract award to Northrop to continue AAR testing in June.

    The 2013 scenario is set to repeat itself following the expiration of the AAR contract — likely at the end of this month.

    Last month, Senate Armed Services Committee chair Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) issued a strongly worded letter to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on the UCLASS program and encouraged Carter to keep flying the UCAS-D airframes.

    “Our nation has made a sizeable investment in this demonstration program to date, and both air vehicles have consumed only a small fraction of their approved flying hours,” wrote McCain.
    Following the test program “there will be no unmanned air vehicles operating from carrier decks for several years. I think this would be a lost learning opportunity in what promises to be a critical area for sustaining the long-term operational and strategic relevance of the aircraft carrier.”

    Duarte said the two X-47s had expended about 20 percent of the approved flight hours for the airframe but reiterated the difference in X-47B and the Navy’s current UCLASS concept would make further testing an expensive proposition.

    However, the final form of the UCLASS airframe is far from settled.

    The Navy wants a highly efficient surveillance UAV that can fly for long distances, while the carrier is at rest and doesn’t have the capability to be aerially refueled.

    Another group, including McCain and Rep Randy Forbes (R–Va.), want a UCLASS to serve as a long range stealthy strike platform that would gain range by refueling mid-air.

    The final disposition of UCLASS will follow the results of an ongoing Pentagon-wide
    UAV strategic program review (SPR, pronounced spear), pushing the request for proposal for the UCLASS airframe into Fiscal Year 2016 the Navy announced as part of its FY 2016 budget rollout.

    The Navy plans to field UCLASS by 2022 or 2023.

    As for Salty Dog 502 — the X-47B plumbed for aerial refueling— Duarte said the first successful AAR test could occur ‘as soon as tomorrow’ off the coast of Maryland — weather permitting.
    NAVAIR: Aerial Refueling Will End X-47B Test Program, Salty Dogs Bound for Museums or Boneyard - USNI News

  7. #82
    Senior Contributor SteveDaPirate's Avatar
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    The navy is planning to get rid of the X-47s already? With UCLASS still 5-10 years away, I can't tell if this move is indicative of something new coming down the pipeline before that, or some kind of political issue with operating unmanned vehicles off carriers.

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    It sounds like the official word is that whatever UCLASS ends up being, it'll be different enough from the X-47B that there's not enough value in continuing to fly them. I'd like to see them go to AMARC for a while, basically because I don't trust the official word. I don't trust McCain on this, either, though.

  9. #84
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    Park them over in AMARC or loan them out to the Brits or something. Its just a shame to see that kind of investment be disposed of so quickly. Particularly when it appeared they were meeting or exceeding expectations.

  10. #85
    Senior Contributor surfgun's Avatar
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    The MQ-25 Stingray is to extend the reach of the Super Hornets for another 300-400 miles.
    https://news.usni.org/2017/08/31/mq-...rrier-air-wing

  11. #86
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    Quote Originally Posted by surfgun View Post
    The MQ-25 Stingray is to extend the reach of the Super Hornets for another 300-400 miles.
    https://news.usni.org/2017/08/31/mq-...rrier-air-wing
    so now do they go back to some stealth requirements if these things are going to be loiter that far out?

  12. #87
    Senior Contributor SteveDaPirate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bfng3569 View Post
    so now do they go back to some stealth requirements if these things are going to be loiter that far out?
    Any wise competitors will build in stealthy shaping whether the Navy makes it a requirement or not. It makes it much easier to pitch an upgraded "strike" version in the future and avoids the USN opening another competition.
    Last edited by SteveDaPirate; 06 Sep 17, at 14:48.

  13. #88
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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveDaPirate View Post
    Any wise competitors will build in stealthy shaping whether the Navy makes it a requirement or not. It makes it much easier to pitch an upgraded "strike" version in the future and avoids the USN opening another competition.
    Except if you lose the contract for cost based reasons.

    If a stealth platform loses because its to expensive, everyone loses.

    if the stealth platform wins and is considerably more expensive, how long before the protest from the loser.

    I'm not familiar enough with how the process works, but pretty much all government related work I do comes down to 'did you meet the specified requirements' and 'were you the least expensive option meet the listed requirements'.

    the whole notion of requiring the tanker to still use the existing pylon hung refueling unit would also seem to negate any stealth design (for the intended tanking mission).

  14. #89
    Senior Contributor surfgun's Avatar
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    Northrop/Grumman (likely the most expensive option) pulls out of the competition.
    https://news.usni.org/2017/10/25/nor...ay-competition

  15. #90
    Resident Curmudgeon Military Professional Gun Grape's Avatar
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    Don't blame them. They designed a unmanned stealth strike plane. Just like the Navy wanted. Then the Navy changed their mind and decided it wanted a non stealthy refueler.

    They are already making a strike drone for the USAF. They already have the X-47. Just need to wait by the phone until the navy decided it needs it.

    Until then follow Kelly Johnson's rule "Starve before doing business with the damned Navy. They don't know what the hell they want and will drive you up a wall before they break either your heart or a more exposed part of your anatomy."
    Its called Tourist Season. So why can't we shoot them?

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