The US Navy has reportedly confirmed plans to integrate future unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike (UCLASS) aircraft within the same air unit that currently operates Northrop Grumman’s E-2C / D airborne command and control jets.
Previous plans involved operating the UCLASS aircraft as a separate entity, a detachment to Lockheed Martin’s F-35C fighter wing or as a detachment to a group that includes the E-2C / D, Flight Global reported.
In a notice, naval officials said that the first UCLASS unit will be a detachment to the airborne command and control logistics fleet on the aircraft carrier, which includes the E-2C and E-2D aircraft, confirming the assignment of the UCLASS fleet to the E-2 unit commander.
In September 2013, a request for proposal (RFP) was expected to be released with the four vendors who won preliminary design review deals for the air vehicle design in August of the same year.
Companies including Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are still waiting for the release of a final RFP for a contract in the UCLASS programme, which is worth up to $6bn.
The UCLASS programme was suspended in September 2014 so it could be incorporated in a wider re-evaluation of investment on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance potential.
Claimed to be the latest and most technologically advanced variant of the E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning command and control (AEW&C) platform, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft can be used for airborne strikes, land force support, rescue operations and drug interdiction missions.
Image: The US Navy’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft. Photo: courtesy of the US Navy, photo by mass communication specialist 3rd class Shane A Jackson.