The U.S. Navy will likely map out the future for a new armed, carrier-based drone as part of its fiscal 2017 budget proposal after completion of a Pentagon-wide study of surveillance and intelligence needs, a Navy official said on Friday.
The official, who asked not to be named, said the long-delayed competition would likely focus on a drone for conducting surveillance that could also carry weapons, largely in line with the approach favored by the Navy.
Rear Admiral Robert Girrier, the newly appointed director of unmanned warfare systems, told reporters in a briefing on Friday that he expected more information in “coming months” about the new drone, but gave no further details.
Boeing Corp , Northrop Grumman Corp, which makes the X-47B unmanned, unarmed plane that has been tested on U.S. carriers, Lockheed Martin Corp , and privately held General Atomics have spent tens of millions of dollars to prepare for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance Strike (UCLASS) tender.
But the program, one of just a few new aircraft programs up for grabs for contractors, has been on hold pending a Pentagon-wide review of intelligence and surveillance programs that has stretched on much longer than expected.
“The Navy is absolutely committed to unmanned aviation and getting it fully integrated… and we are going to do that in an evolutionary way and that’s how we see UCLASS,” Girrier said. Retired Brigadier General Frank Kelley, the first deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy for unmanned systems, said that in August 2014 he saw the UCLASS up close.
“I can tell you that there were three of us out there and we were convinced that we were looking at the future of naval aviation,” Kelley said.
Kelley said cybersecurity was a top priority moving forward for all unmanned aircraft.
“It’s incredibly important, and to be honest… just the threat, the thought that somebody could hack into a system and… turn that against you, that becomes pretty frightening,” Kelley said.