The Navy has issued a total of just over $1 million in research and development funds via four separate contracts to Boeing [BA], General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Northrop Grumman [NOC] as part of the sea service’s effort to get its unmanned, carrier-based aircraft concept off the ground.

Of the development deals awarded last week, each company was awarded roughly $500,000 apiece to provide a conceptual demonstration of the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft, according to a Navy release posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website.

“Proposals must have a strong emphasis on an open, adaptive architecture and disciplined systems engineering,” the announcement notes. “The program anticipates leveraging existing, deployed [Defense Department] systems to launch, recover, and control the air vehicle, transfer data in support of time critical strike operations, and conduct [persistant] ISR operations.”

In addition, the UCLASS effort will also lean heavily on the lessons learned from the Navy’s ongoing work with the Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator (UCAS-D), specifically in “development and…technology risk reduction” work associated with both next-gen unmanned aircraft, Navy officials wrote.

The Navy successfully flew a version of UCAS-D –developed by Northrop Grumman–dubbed “air vehicle one” in February 2011 at Edwards AFB, Calif. Currently, Navy personnel are preparing for land-based carrier flight trials at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., this fall.

The UCAS-D, as envisioned by Navy planners, will be an unmanned, carrier-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft with the ability to carry out precision strike operations. Navy officials hope to have either a UCLASS or UCAS-type system deployed with the fleet’s carrier groups by 2018.

But as the sea service moves ahead with the UCLASS and UCAS-D programs, pending defense spending legislation on Capitol Hill could derail those efforts.

Inserted as an amendment to the House Armed Services Committee’s draft of the FY ’12 defense authorization bill, the legislation will limit the Navy to spending “not more than 15 percent” of the total appropriated dollars for the carrier-based aircraft, unless the Navy provides specific information to Congress on the program.

Sponsored by Rep Todd Akin (R-Mo.), the legislation also requires the head of the Joint Staff’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) to validate the “capability gap” that the Navy-led program fills and that the JROC has approved a subsequent capability and development document (CDD) for the program.

The full House approved the committee’s version of the defense authorization bill in May.

If folded into the final version of the defense bill approved by the White House, the legislation will require Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley to put together a UCLASS plan that delineates the “threshold and objective” goals for key performance parameters for the aircraft’s weapons and intelligence payloads, electronic warfare and stealth capabilities, communications equipment and overall survivability and affordability of the program, according to the amendment.