"The problem is, if you try to stuff both missions into one airframe, you end up sacrificing one," former destroyer skipper retired Cmdr. Bryan McGrath told Navy Times. "We need both strike and surveillance, and we probably need them in two separate aircraft."
While that idea hasn't been officially presented, said a Navy spokeswoman, all options are on the table to meet the capabilities the Navy wants in its unmanned jet while anticipating the next generations of aircraft.
"As we move forward, it's important that unmanned systems not only be able to integrate with the ship, but also with future platforms," Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman told Navy Times.
You wouldn't want a radar system that only works with one type of aircraft, so the Navy is looking into hardware and software for UCLASS that would set the standard for unmanned integration going forward.
"The number one thing passed down to me when I came into the job [in 2012]: This RFP for UCLASS, we've got to get it out," he said, weeks before ending his tour and retiring with no approved request for proposals. "There's a political battle going on with what kind of capability we need coming off the carrier."
McGrath, who co-authored an Oct. 5 report defending the strategic value of the carrier strike group, pointed out that getting unmanned capabilities up and running could quiet some critics who think that carriers are too vulnerable to potential threats from China, for example.
But with a potential long-range strike and surveillance aircraft about a decade off, the Navy is looking at platforms it already has — like the MQ-4C Triton, an unmanned P-8 Poseidon complement, and the MQ-8B Fire Scout, a helicopter mostly used on littoral combat ships — and how they might work with a strike group, Schwegman said.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.