WASHINGTON: Former Navy pilot Sen. John McCain wants the Navy to build its first carrier-based drone with the ability to carry two tons of weapons in a stealthy platform able to fly into harm’s way and not primarily as a reconnaissance aircraft. And McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Serves Committee, went straight to Defense Secretary Ash Carter to make his case in a letter today.
The Navy is in the midst of developing a final Request for Proposal for UCLASS — a process which has been delayed several times in the face of serious question about the balance between range, weapons payload size the reconnaissance mission — and McCain clearly wants the Navy to change direction.
As a former Navy congressional liaison, the chairman certainly knows how to work the system. He isn’t alone in pushing for the navy to change direction. Rep. Randy Forbes, chairman of the House Armed Services seapower subcommittee, has also weighed in on UCLASS. However, Forbes pushed for a smaller payload of at least 1,000 pounds.
The senator was pretty specific in his letter. He said the Navy should build a system: “unrefueled endurance several times that of manned fighters; a refueled mission endurance measured in days; broadband, all-aspect radar cross-section reduction sufficient to find and engage defended targets; and the ability to carry internally a flexible mix of at least 4,000 pounds payload.”
On top of all that, MCCain urges the Pentagon to actually use the UCAS-D — better known as Northrop Grumman’s X-47B — to learn more about how to use carrier-based drones. He notes that, “under current plans” there won’t be any drones operating from a carrier deck for several years. “I think this would be a lost learning opportunity in what promises to be a a critical area for sustaining the long-term operational operational and strategic relevance of the aircraft carrier.