As it reconsiders its unmanned aviation strategy, the Navy has decided to cease funding the X-47B bat-winged drone that made aviation history in recent years. The first-ever autonomous unmanned aircraft to be launched from and recovered on a carrier deck, the X-47B, is likely to run out of funding by the end of fiscal year 2016. The Navy has not requested money for the program in its fiscal year 2017 budget.
The X-47B remains in “standby status” at the Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River, Maryland, Capt. Beau Duarte, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager, told National Defense Feb. 10 in a statement.
There is still a chance, however, that the aircraft could fly again, he said. The Navy received $250 million in fiscal year 2016 for “risk reduction activities” for a future drone known as the unmanned carrier launched strike and surveillance, or UCLASS. The Naval Air Systems Command will “evaluate what surrogate aircraft activities, including further X-47B operations, are cost effective to meet these risk reduction goals,” Duarte said.
The latest decision regarding the X-47B caps off a complex turn of events for this program since the Navy awarded Northrop Grumman a contract in 2007 to build a carrier combat drone.