LOCKHEED’S “VARIOUS” UCAV CONCEPT REMAINS INTRIGUING

A few years back Lockheed’s VARIOUS (VTOL Advanced Reconnaissance Insertion Organic Unmanned System) UCAV emerged with a whimper as an idea, and since then it seems that it has remained just that, an idea. Yet VARIOUS looks much more far-fetched than it really is. The geared lift-fan concept is now so trusted that the whole F-35B program, that features a much heavier aircraft with a human being inside, depends upon it. Further, we know that stealthy unmanned aircraft have been flying operationally since 2007 via the now unmasked RQ-170 Sentinel program, and today advanced UCAVs are in testing in the public domain and certainly in the classified domain as well (more on this in an upcoming post). So although VARIOUS looks like something out of a Michael Bay movie, it really is just a fairly simple reiteration of various pieces of programs that already exist.

VARIOUS, as a concept, has the ability to greatly change the way Marine amphibious warfare is performed. Being able to launch vertically off the decks of an amphibious assault ship, fly at up to 360kts to a target, even in unsanitized hostile airspace, and provide precision fire support and intelligence gathering while efficiently loitering at 180kts overhead, all without putting a pilot at risk, is an exciting mix of capabilities. Furthermore, VARIOUS would be a perfect companion to the MV-22 Osprey, as the little stealthy machines could deploy over the landing zone well before the Ospreys arrive, checking the area for enemy forces, and even clearing them kinetically if need be. They could even provide armed escort for the MV-22s on their way back to the ship as VARIOUS can easily keep up with the Ospreys high cruising speed, a capability lacking in traditional attack helicopters. Additionally, VARIOUS is not large machine, so numerous copies could be carried into a combat area aboard an amphibious assault ship, which would allow for persistence over the battlefield through high-sortie rates without overtaxing the airframes available.

Although the Marine’s application for an aircraft like VARIOUS is clear, there are many other uses for the drone that make just as much sense. Smaller ships, possibly down to the size of a Destroyer, could carry VARIOUS and employ it in many different creative ways. From sea control to counter air warfare, from search and rescue to over the horizon network node, from supporting special operations activities to strike missions over denied territory, this aircraft could allow almost every surface combatant in the Navy to harness a relevant fixed wing stealth aircraft capability, all in a small, efficient, and modular package. Dare I say that VARIOUS could even finally give the beleaguered Littoral Combat Ships the teeth and purpose they are so desperately in need of? This weapon makes a ton of sense in a future of expeditionary warfare and dispersed operations in the Pacific Theater. In other words, the Navy could not only use this aircraft, they actually may need this aircraft in the not so distant future.

 

 

 

 

The USAF could also make good use of VARIOUS, or a something very similar to it. Forward deployed air assets, operating at the edge of a rapidly advancing ground force, have always been an idea that sounds easier and more relevant than it really is. But when it comes to logistics, operating an aircraft like VARIOUS, that may need 300′ of runway compared to 6000′ or more for its traditional fixed and wing manned cousins, really makes the forward operating base concept much more viable for the USAF. Imagine a system like VARIOUS that could fit fully into two semi trailers including aircraft, command unit, weapons and fuel. Such a system could allow the USAF to provide an incredible level of air support, both kinetic and non-kenetic, on a moments notice, to Army commanders in the field, even deep hostile airspace. This capability would allow commanders on the ground to have real time tasking control over a combat aircraft that can hit target not only where friendly units are in the present, but also where the Army commanders may find themselves the next day, or even the next week. Simply put, not being tied to sacked enemy airfields, which are hard to secure, often destroyed during the opening days of a conflict, and obvious targets for enemy missile barrages, would allow the USAF to provide close air support and tactical surveillance flights to the Army without the cost and logistical hell of multiple aerial refuelings, hours long transient times, and often insulated operating realities of being based hundreds, or even thousands of miles away from the war-zone. The USAF could literally create VARIOUS “squadrons,” of multiple aircraft elements, that roll along at the tail end of advancing Army units, setting up and breaking down periodically so that they can provide almost instant organic advanced air support and reconnaissance for troops on the ground. In some ways such a machine would be part RQ-170 and part RAH-66 Comanche, a deadly mix of fixed wing speed and rotary wing punch, all in a hard to detect and modular package.

Seeing as how useful such a vehicle can be, why have we not head more about VARIOUS even though it remains ever-present in Lockheed promotional videos and graphics? Almost certainly because anything that competes for funding with the F-35 program, or that could even prove a variant (F-35B) largely unnecessary, either does not get funded or gets deeply classified to hide it from the press and even lawmakers. I mean heaven forbid that the services money-hungry pet project (JSF) were to be infringed on, competed with, or degraded in any way right? And especially by a relatively inexpensive and modest unmanned aircraft…

I have a feeling that we have not heard the last of VARIOUS, stay tuned for future developments…

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2 Responses to LOCKHEED’S “VARIOUS” UCAV CONCEPT REMAINS INTRIGUING

  1. Todd Frohwirth says:

    You’re right, it certainly doesn’t get much publicity. I hadn’t heard of this VTOL version before, but it makes all the sense in the world.

  2. nico says:

    The VTOL for a project like VARIOUS makes so much more sense than it does on JSF. The fact that almost any Navy ship could carry a small stealth attack platform presents defenders with a huge problem, how much sea do you have to cover and deny? I doubt that F35B will operate other than from an amphibious carrier. Also you could turn civilian cargo ships into Various carriers or even maybe fly them off containers? You could just plop them where ever you want and they could fly the mission. It really is what JSF should be! It really is joint, more economical than JSF or manned fighters, truly modular, multi mission, presents the enemy with a real problem, real game changer,etc…

    It real shows just how dead end JSF thinking is. We started more than a decade ago with JSF and already new technology and ideas are appearing that is bypassing it. JSF reminds me of NOKIA, they just kept on making phones and never saw APPLE come out with the smartphone. Why are we still investing so much in a project/idea that is already been leapfrogged and not relevant in tomorrow’s warfare? Just imagine the new drones that will be available in the next couple of years, these things aren’t science fiction any more….

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