It's not every day that you get to see a new stealth jet
unveiled, but today Lockheed Martin's famed Skunk Works
division posted these artist's renderings of its bid for the Navy's next attack
jet at its booth at the Navy League's annual Sea Air Space conference just
outside of Washington.
Remember, the Navy is trying to field a fleet of stealthy,
unmanned fighter-sized jets that can launch from an aircraft carrier, fly
through enemy air defenses and do everything from bomb targets to spy on them
under a program called Unmanned
Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike or UCLASS.
Last summer, Lockheed showed
us a very unrevealing drawing of what it said would be its UCLASS bid,
nicknamed the Sea Ghost. These pictures offer a far better look at the jet.
The plane above looks remarkably similar to Lockheed's super-secret
RQ-170 Sentinel spy plane, nicknamed the Beast of Kandahar by reporters after
grainy photos of it operating in Afghanistan emerged in 2008. (A Sentinel was
famously captured by Iran in late 2010, giving the world its first close-up
view of the jet.) When yours truly
pointed out the similarities between Lockheed's UCLASS bid and the Sentinel to
a company spokeswoman, she just smiled and said she had no idea what I was
talking about. It makes sense for Lockheed to base the airplane on an existing
stealth drone since the Navy wants UCLASS operating from carriers by the end of
While the spokeswoman couldn't say anything about the plane
beyond that it will be flying sometime around 2018 to 2020, she did provide
Killer Apps with a quick fact sheet.
Lockheed says the jet will be based on its existing manned
and unmanned planes and will feature a "maximum reuse of hardware and
software," according to the factsheet posted below. (This means the plane will incorporate
technology developed for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as well as the RQ-170.)
Still, the jet will need to have a tail hook added, wings that fold (to fit on
a carrier's crowded deck), and have its airframe strengthened to withstand the
pressures of catapult launches and arrested landings, as well as the corrosive
As you can see from these pictures, the plane doesn't
feature the RQ-170's two large humps, which likely sensors contain communications
gear, on the top and bottom of its fuselage. This is likely because the
Sentinel was designed a decade or more ago and sensor and comms technology has shrunk in
size dramatically since then.
Like all modern stealth jets, Lockheed's UCLASS bid features
"signature control," meaning it doesn't just rely on a stealthy shape to remain
undetected. It will feature a combination of radar absorbing coatings, heat-masking
technology, and various ways of protecting its electronic emissions (radar,
satellite communications, etc.) from detection by an enemy, according to the
Finally, one operator aboard an aircraft carrier or ashore
will be able to control multiple jets as they carry out missions. This last
attribute is a key tenet of the UCLASS program, which seeks to field a fleet of
semi-autonomous drones that can do everything from land themselves on aircraft
carriers to refuel in midair with a pilot simply supervising the mission.