UCAS-D versus UCLASS? No.
Testing today’s drones should not be curtailed just for “fairness” in procurement.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus really likes drones. He now has a whole deputy assistant secretariat for them. In contrast to the US Air Force, his people aren’t yet burned out from operating them around the clock for over a decade. This April Fool’s Day even brought the annual joke about another aerial demonstration team—this time the Blue Angels—going unmanned. Except that if Cirque de Soleil can do it already, maybe the idea just isn’t that far-fetched. For those X-47B UCAS-Ds—Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrators—bought from Northrop Grumman have been taking off from carriers, landing on carriers, and refueling from 707s. That bodes well for the forthcoming UCLASS—Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike—competition. But for all that the secretary likes those drones from Northrop, further tests and evaluations of the airplane will proceed judiciously, so as not to give“the people that made UCAS a huge advantage over what the next iteration is.” And that may be a mistake.
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