The delayed and controversial request for proposals in the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (Uclass) air vehicle competition should be out “within a couple of weeks,” according to Rear Adm. Mat Winter, the service’s program executive officer for unmanned aircraft and strike systems.

The Navy is in the final stages of dialogue with senior Pentagon leadership, Winter said here on Monday, regarding the specifications in the RFP. The military is also responding to pressure from Congress, led by seapower subcommittee chair Randy Forbes, which wants the service to tighten stealth and survivability requirements.

Discussions so far have shown no need to change the Navy’s original capabilities development document (CDD), Winter says. “The question is whether the CDD is still relevant, and today the answer is yes. There are no changes anticipated.” However, he adds, the CDD called for Uclass to be capable of surviving in “permissive and contested” environments. “That’s a spectrum, and when we issue an RFP we have to be more concrete and prescriptive. That’s the dialogue we are having now.”

The specifications are crucial for the Uclass program. Two of the four contractors involved – Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin – are believed to be ready to drop out of the program if the Navy goes for less stealth and lower cost, because the designs that they have been working on (respectively, an X-47-like shape and a larger version of the RQ-170 Sentinel) are biased toward more stealth and tougher threats.

The other competitors, General Atomics–Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) and Boeing, are  considered sure to bid. GA-ASI is offering an enlarged version of its Avenger, and Boeing’s Phantom Works is believed to be building a demonstrator of an all-new design, but the company has been tight-lipped about its characteristics.

Uclass is a “long-term strategic play” for Boeing, according to Chris Chadwick, president and CEO of the company’s defense division, because it will lead to other opportunities for unmanned air systems that can survive against adversary air defenses. “The numbers in Uclass are small,” he said in late June, “but it starts small and will grow. The company that wins it will have an edge over its competitors” for future contests.  

Contractors will have 60 days to respond to the RFP and the Navy expects to complete its evaluation in 10 months, Winter says. That would lead to a source selection recommendation to senior Pentagon leadership in “mid-to-third-quarter FY15.” The RFP covers only the air vehicle, and the Navy – which will be the lead system integrator – is continuing work on the carrier and command and control segments.