The U.S. Navy has embraced unmanned aircraft (“drones”) as a way of expanding the reconnaissance and strike capabilities of its fleet. Two of these programs — the land-based MQ-4C Triton and the vertical-ascent MQ-8B Fire Scout — look like winners.
But the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike system, usually referred to by its acronym UCLASS, appears less promising. One reason why is that outsiders keep trying to dictate performance features to the Navy even though the service has already conducted a detailed series of tradeoffs that were blessed by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council — the Pentagon’s most senior panel for reviewing combat-system needs. If these outsiders succeed in changing the requirements, Navy support for UCLASS will fade, and the program will die.
The outsiders come in three flavors:
1) Congressional staffers who think they understand naval combat needs better than warfighters do;
2) Think-tank analysts espousing a transformational vision of the future fleet; and
3) Contractors seeking an edge in the competition to determine what company will develop the drone.
The complaint they all seem to share is that the Navy wants the new drone mainly to extend the reach of its carrier-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, rather than to strike remote targets with airborne weapons. It’s not an either/or question — a recon drone can have some strike capability and a strike drone can have some recon functions — but rather a disagreement over where the emphasis should be placed when the drone is designed.
Read More:How to Shoot Down a Drone | RealClearDefense.