Media Advisory: U.S. Navy invites media to discuss historic X-47B launch from USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77)

USS George H.W. Bush (AT SEA) — The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS-D) completed its first ever carrier-based catapult launch from USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) off the coast of Virginia today.

“Today we saw a small, but significant pixel in the future picture of our Navy as we begin integration of unmanned systems into arguably the most complex warfighting environment that exists today: the flight deck of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier,” said Vice Adm. David Buss, commander, Naval Air Forces, the Navy’s “Air Boss”.

The unmanned aircraft launched from the deck of George H.W. Bush at 11:18 a.m. It executed several planned low approaches to the carrier and safely transited across the Chesapeake Bay to land at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., after an approximately 65-minute flight.

Buss called the launch a “watershed event” in naval aviation and said he expects that decades from now, a future “Air Boss” will have a picture of the X-47B launching from Bush behind his or her desk just as he has a picture of aviation pioneer Eugene Ely’s first-ever landing on the deck of a ship in 1911 behind his desk today.

Completing another important first for the UCAS-D program, the team demonstrated the ability to precisely navigate the X-47B within the controlled airspace around an aircraft carrier at sea and seamlessly pass control of the air vehicle from a “mission operator” aboard the carrier to one located in the Mission Test Control Center at NAS Patuxent River for landing.

“The flight today demonstrated that the X-47B is capable of operation from a carrier, hand-off from one mission control station to another, flight through the national airspace, and recovery at another location without degradation in safety or precision,” said Matt Funk, lead test engineer for the Navy UCAS program.

Prior to the catapult launch on Tuesday, the UCAS test team also conducted deck-handling and ship-integration testing to demonstrate the capability to safely operate the X-47B in the dynamic, unforgiving environment of an aircraft carrier flight deck.

“This event is a testament to the teamwork, professionalism and expertise of everyone involved with X-47B program,” said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, program executive officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons. “Their work will positively impact future unmanned aviation development for years to come.”

Over the next few weeks, the X-47B aircraft will fly approaches to the ship multiple times and eventually land on the pitching flight deck, said Navy UCAS Program Manager Capt. Jaime Engdahl.

The UCAS team will conduct additional shore-based testing with the X-47B at NAS Patuxent River in the coming months before its final carrier-based arrested landing demonstration later this summer.

Load’em up


In January 2012, the Secretary of Defense issued new defense strategic guidance (DSG)—Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense—which serves as a foundational document in establishing national security interests, the threats to these interests, and the fiscal realities that guide our military posture. The DSG directed a rebalance of forces, with a renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific region, as well as continued emphasis on the Middle East. Using the DSG as a point of departure, the Secretary of Defense recently directed a strategic choices and management review in light of budget realities—such as sequestration—and strategic uncertainty. This review will continue to help the Air Force to identify the major strategic choices that we must make to properly and realistically plan for the future.

Although the future is uncertain, we know that the capability to sustain national priorities hinges upon a strong and capable Air Force. Over the last 12 years, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan required Air Force capabilities to help force rogue regimes from power and then to provide critical support to land forces engaged in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations, and the Air Force currently plans to maintain these capabilities.

In addition, the expected military challenges of the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East, and Africa suggest an increasing reliance on airpower, not only by America and her allies, but also by her adversaries. The defining characteristics of American airpower—range, speed, flexibility, precision, persistence, and lethality—have played a crucial role in cultivating stability in these regions, a trend that will only increase in the future. The sheer geographic size and extended lines of communication of the Asia-Pacific region, along with the developing military expansion of potential regional adversaries, demand an air force that is postured to ensure stability and preserve U.S. interests.

The Air Force is committed, along with our joint partners and allies and through cooperative military relationships, to ensuring global and regional stability and mutual freedom of access to the global commons to secure our common interests around the world.

The Air Force’s technological advantage is threatened by the worldwide proliferation of advanced technologies, including integrated air defenses, long-range ballistic and cruise missiles with precision-capable warheads, and advanced air combat capabilities.

Advances in adversarial capabilities in space control and cyber warfare may also limit U.S. freedom of action. Some of these technologies are attained with relatively minimal cost, greatly reducing the barriers to entry that have historically limited the reach and power of non-state actors, organized militias, and radical extremists. We live in an age of surprise, where individual acts can be powerful and the effects can be global. Today’s strategic environment presents a broad range of threats and an unpredictable set of challenges, ranging from non-state actors to nuclear armed nations.

We must continue to invest in our science and technology base to ensure that the future balance of power remains in our favor. This requires flexibility, versatility, and a shift to inherently agile, deployable, and networked systems from those designed for fixed purposes or limited missions.

One initiative that we continue to pursue as we consider the strategic environment is the Air-Sea Battle concept. Air-Sea Battle is an operational concept focused on the ways and means that are necessary to overcome current and anticipated anti-access and area denial threats. By focusing on increased integration and interoperability between all Services, the concept ensures that joint forces maintain the ability to project power and protect national interests despite the proliferation of anti-access/area denial threats worldwide. The concept is not a strategy, nor does it target a specific adversary, but instead focuses on acquiring pre-integrated, joint capabilities. Beyond conflict, the Air-Sea Battle concept can enhance response to humanitarian missions where weather or geography may deny access.

Even as we rebalance our forces, we are aware that the time, place, and nature of the next contingency can never be predicted with certainty. When contingencies arise, we must maintain the ability to respond immediately and effectively if called to action. To align with the DSG, the Air Force has traded size for quality. We aim to be a smaller, but superb, force that maintains the agility, flexibility, and readiness to engage a full range of contingencies and threats.

Pass in Review

Fiscal Environment

We recognize that because our Nation is striving to reduce spending and our military is transitioning operations from the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility and rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region, the Air Force must adapt to a relatively static or reduced budget.

However, reliance by the joint team and the Nation on our unique ability to provide Global Vigilance, Global Reach, and Global Power constrains Air Force options in reducing or terminating capabilities or missions. Therefore, we are working hard and making real progress in eliminating unnecessary expenses and ensuring more disciplined use of resources. Nonetheless, the fiscal environment requires us to make trades between force structure, readiness, and modernization among the core missions to ensure the highest quality and ready Air Force possible.

 Fiscal Year 2013 Sequestration Effects

 As a result of the triggering of the 2011 Budget Control Act’s sequestration provision, the Air Force is implementing significant reductions to our fiscal year 2013 (FY13) operations. If the post-sequester Budget Control Act funding caps remain in effect, the Air Force will be unable to achieve our agenda of reinvigorating readiness and aligning to the DSG. In both the short- and long-term, sequestration will have devastating impacts to readiness, will significantly affect our modernization programs, and may cause further force structure reductions.

Sequestration will force the Air Force to reduce expenditures by around $10 billion in FY13. These actions include a planned furlough of more than 170,000 civil service employees, an 18 percent reduction in flying training and aircraft maintenance, and deferment of critical facility requirements (including runway and taxiway repairs).

Many of these actions severely degrade Air Force readiness. Lost flight hours will cause unit stand downs which will result in severe, rapid, and long-term unit combat readiness degradation.

We have already ceased operations for one-third of our fighter and bomber force. Within 60 days of a stand down, the affected units will be unable to meet emergent or operations plans requirements. Lost currency training requires six months to a year to return to current suboptimal levels, with desired flying proficiency for crewmembers requiring even longer.

Getting Low

Sequestration impacts are already occurring, and the FY14 President’s Budget (PB) does not assume the costs of recovering the readiness impacts from even a partial year of sequestration.

Depot delays will also result in the grounding of some affected aircraft. The deferments mean idled production shops, a degradation of workforce proficiency and productivity, and corresponding future volatility and operational costs. It can take two-to-three years to recover full restoration of depot workforce productivity and proficiency. In our space portfolio, sequestration will force the elimination of some system redundancies, as well as other preventative maintenance actions designed to minimize risk. All of these sequestration impacts negatively affect Air Force full-spectrum readiness at a time when we have been striving to reverse a declining trend in this critical area.

As a result of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013, the Air Force has been able to make limited funding transfers and reprogramming actions that will help alleviate the most problematic and immediate FY13 funding shortfalls. However, the decisions that we have been forced to make in short-term spending may increase total costs over the long run. For example, sequestration cuts to Air Force modernization will impact every one of our investment programs. These program disruptions will, over time, cost more taxpayer dollars to rectify contract restructures and program inefficiencies, raise unit costs, and delay delivery of validated capabilities to warfighters in the field. The drastic reduction to modernization programs reduces our Air Force’s competitive advantage and decreases the probability of mission success in the Asia-Pacific region.

Sequestration Effects in FY14 and Beyond

The President’s Budget includes balanced deficit reduction proposals that would allow Congress to replace and repeal sequestration in FY13 and the associated cap reductions in FY14 – 21. If sequestration is not replaced, however, the Air Force will have to rebuild degraded unit readiness, accept further delays to modernization, absorb the backlog in depot maintenance inductions, and invest additional funding to restore infrastructure. While the Air Force has made every effort to minimize impacts to readiness and people, the bow-wave of reductions, deferments, and cancellations associated with sequestration will challenge the strategic choices made in the FY14 budget submission.

The exact impacts of sequestration on Air Force resources in FY14 and beyond depend on congressional action. We do know, however, that the national fiscal situation will require some reductions that may increase risk to our readiness, force structure, and our ability to modernize an aging aircraft inventory. In addition, the outcome of the strategic choices and management review may drive further changes.

As we navigate the uncertain way ahead, in order to mitigate risk in critical areas like readiness, force structure, and modernization, and to avoid a hollow force, we will continue to work with Congress to develop force shaping options, urgently seek another base realignment and closure (BRAC) round, and ask for relief from legislative restrictions on the reduction of excess force structure and from mandatory expenditures on programs that we have proposed to retire or terminate. To slow the growth in military compensation while also fully supporting the all volunteer force, we also request congressional support on limiting the basic military pay raise to one percent and allowing sensible TRICARE fee and pharmacy co-pay changes.

In spite of these fiscal challenges, the Air Force will continue to strive to balance reductions across the force to maintain the capabilities of the remaining forces and keep the Air Force strong.

Air Force Week kicks off in New York City

SecAF, CSAF share confidence in nuclear enterprise

5/10/2013 – WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Appearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense to testify about the service’s fiscal 2014 budget request, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III also addressed Congressional concerns over media reports about the findings of a recent missile wing inspection.

The 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., received an overall, passing “Satisfactory” rating during a Consolidated Unit Inspection by Air Force Global Strike Command, March 4 to13. Twenty-two areas were inspected during the CUI, with the missile wing earning an “Outstanding” rating in one area, “Excellent” ratings in 14 areas, and “Satisfactory” ratings in six areas. One area was rated “Marginal.”

Donley said the ICBM force, which maintains a high state of readiness as part of its mission, remains a safe, secure and reliable element of the nation’s nuclear triad, and what was found represents the stronger inspection process the Air Force adopted as it reinvigorated the nuclear enterprise.  “We have made substantial progress in restoring the confidence, I think, of our entire [Department of Defense] and Congressional leadership in the Air Force’s management of this important responsibility,” Donley said. “It is a number one responsibility for our Air Force that we take very, very seriously.”

As a result of the inspection and further review, unit leaders identified proficiency shortfalls compounded by an attitude of complacency among a small number of officers. They sent a call-for-action email to missile crew members to re-emphasize the high standards expected in the nuclear mission area. It identified areas for improvement, outlined expectations, and reinforced pride and importance of the mission.

“I believe this is the kind of commander intervention that prevents the incidents that occurred in 2007,” Welsh said. “They took very aggressive action early to make sure that there was no question in the minds of their crew force that marginal behavior or satisfactory-just-above-the-line was not acceptable.”

The inspection also allowed the unit commanders to assess performance of the crew members to identify individuals that require more training. The 91st Operations Group identified 17 crew members who required more training–approximately five to six from each of the three missile squadrons.  Currently, the 17 officers identified are going through what Welsh described as a retraining program that should last roughly 60 days.

Welsh made it clear that he feels the marginal findings do not present a risk to the Air Force’s nuclear mission, but are a result of identifying a potential problem before it has the ability to snowball — the exact reason the Air Force has inspections. The service uses assessments and inspections as tools for commanders to assess people, processes and performance.

“I don’t believe we have a nuclear surety risk at Minot Air Force Base,” Welsh said. “I believe we have commanders who are taking very aggressive action to ensure that never occurs. And in that respect, this is a good thing.”  Talking about the Airmen who perform the nuclear deterrence mission, Welsh reaffirmed his confidence in them.

“Their performance is really exceptional day-to-day … it has to be. There is no other option,” he said. “And I think our commitment is that we make sure we keep that motivation as they move up through the ranks, and make sure they understand that the Air Force recognizes it.”




X-47B completes key milestone as it prepares for carrier tests at sea

NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – The Navy’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator completed its first-ever arrested landing here May 4, another key step to mature the system for its historic carrier-based tests later this month.

“Landing an unmanned aircraft on an aircraft carrier will be the greatest singular accomplishment for the UCAS demonstration and will serve as the culmination of over a decade of Navy unmanned carrier integration work”, said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, Navy UCAS program manager. “Shore based arrested landing testing here at NAS Patuxent River is our final check that the X-47B can meet that objective.”

During Saturday’s test, the X-47B used a tailhook on the aircraft to catch a carrier representative cable, known as the MK-7 arresting gear, to quickly stop the aircraft. This is known as an arrested landing, the type of recovery required aboard aircraft carriers. The MK-7 arresting gear is an underground installation of actual carrier equipment that accommodates structural tests and aircraft/arresting gear compatibility studies with all models of U.S. Navy carrier aircraft.

“Shore-based testing allows  our combined Navy/Northrop Grumman team to control test conditions before taking the aircraft to the ship,” said Matt Funk, Navy UCAS test team lead. “We are gradually building up to the maximum load conditions we expect to see during an arrested landing aboard an aircraft carrier.”

This month the aircraft will undergo sea-based carrier testing, catapulting from the carrier deck and potentially completing  landings aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).

“The entire system has performed very well across a large set of shore-based testing events including aircraft performance, flying qualities, navigation performance, catapult launches, and precision landings designed to stress system operation,” Engdahl said. “Our final carrier-landing software simulation shows excellent performance, flight test results are very good, and we are confident the X-47B will perform well on the ship.”

The X-47B is a tailless, autonomous aircraft designed with unique features for an unmanned aircraft, such as carrier suitable landing gear and structure. While the X-47B itself will not be used for operational use, the UCAS-D program is developing a concept of operations and demonstrating technologies for use in follow-on unmanned carrier based aircraft programs.

“This actual demonstration of the X-47B unmanned carrier operations is a first, essential step toward developing a carrier-based unmanned system for the U.S. Navy,” said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, who leads the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons. “A carrier-based unmanned aircraft will increase carrier strike group relevance, provide opportunities for training and readiness cost avoidance and enable our future forward deployed carrier air wings to provide continuous intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability.”


Videos:  Broadcast quality video can be downloaded at the links below:














The mission of the Navy Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) Aircraft Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) is to mature technologies for a carrier (CV) suitable  unmanned air system (UAS), while reducing risk for UAS carrier integration and developing the critical data necessary to support potential follow-on acquisition programs.


In the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Navy was directed to restructure the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) program and develop an unmanned, longer- range carrier-based aircraft capable of being air-refueled to provide greater aircraft carrier standoff capability, to expand payload and launch options, and to increase naval reach and persistence.

The Navy UCAS program will develop and demonstrate a CV suitable unmanned air system in support of persistent, penetrating surveillance, and penetrating strike capability in high threat areas. The Navy UCAS program will evolve technologies required to conduct Launch, Recovery, and Carrier Controlled Airspace (CCA) operations and Autonomous Aerial Refueling (AAR) . In FY13, the Navy plans to achieve UCAS CV demonstration objectives. In FY14, the Navy plans to achieve probe & drogue (USN style) and boom/receptacle (USAF style) AAR demonstration.

The X-47B made a successful first flight in February 2011 and  is now at NAS Patuxent River, Md., undergoing shore-based carrier suitability testing in preparation for sea trials in 2013.



Overall Length: 38.2 feet
Wingspan: 62.1 Feet
Height: 10.4 feet
Aircraft Carrier Takeoff Gross Weight: approximately 44,500 pounds
Speed: High subsonic
Power Plant: one Pratt & Whitney F100-220U engine
Payload Provisions: 4500 pounds, plus allowance for electro-optical, infrared, radar and electronic support measures sensors
Autonomous Aerial Refueling Provisions: US Navy and US Air Force styles
Contractor: Northrop Grumman Corporation

Program Status

ACAT: Pre-Major Defense Acquisition Program (MDAP)
Production Phase: Demo
Inventory: 2

Tactics Training

Related Previous Posts:

X-47B Integration Testing, A New Bomb Truck, And A F-35 “In The Bush” Rather Than The F-22 “In The Hand”

Tailless Aircraft And The End Of “Silent Service”

2013 Defense Budget/Sequestration Analysis And Dronery

DARPA: Thinking Outside the Box And Mining The Far Side!

Ready the Lighting