Top Pentagon officials have repeatedly stated their intention to emphasize spending on unmanned systems at a time when budgets are tight, but that doesn’t mean all UAVs are being protected.

In outlining its fiscal 2013 budget proposal, the Navy said it was delaying initial operational capability (IOC) for its aircraft carrier-based unmanned strike drone by two years.

The Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike aircraft, known as UCLASS, is not expected to reach a carrier for IOC until 2020, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told Congress on during testimony on the budget recently.

“It’s still a very important program for us,” Mabus told the House Armed Services Committee.

The Air Force terminated the Block 30 Global Hawk surveillance UAV in its fiscal 2013 budget blueprint, saying the program had grown too expensive. But it stood by plans to develop the follow-on variant.

UCLASS, or the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike aircraft, is conceptualized as the Navy’s key carrier launched air vehicle for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike capabilities.

The Navy last summer issued four separate UCLASS research and development contracts to Boeing [BA], General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Northrop Grumman [NOC].

Rear Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy assistance secretary of the Navy for the budget, said Feb. 13 that the UCLASS program was pushed back because an analysis of alternatives has not been completed and the “program was already sliding some.” The service also needed to better define the requirements, he said.

Some congressional lawmakers have resisted funding UCLASS and have asked the Navy to more clearly identify the aircraft’s mission and objectives.