Twenty-five years ago, the US Air Force wanted to design a new aircraft called the “advanced tactical fighter”. No fewer than seven companies — Boeing, General Dynamics, Grumman, Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop and Rockwell — answered the USAF’s initial call for bids with serious proposals. (Rockwell’s rejected concept for what became the F-22 is pictured at right.)
It is a measure of the US aerospace industry’s competitive decline since 1983 that such a response today could only come from the makers of small and very small unmanned aircraft systems.
I was reminded of this reality this week while researching an upcoming feature story for Flight International on the competitive field for the small tactical UAS (STUAS)/Tier II contract, a joint requirement for the US Navy, US Marine Corps and US Air Force.
For the first time that I could remember, it took me several days to track down and talk to each of the potential competitors for a DOD aerospace contract!
The results of my research are a vivid display of what true market competition looks like. I was able to find least seven known or potential competitors, but there are very likely more.
Four acknowledged competitors:
- Boeing/Insitu* – Integrator
- Raytheon/Swift – KillerBee-3
- AAI/Aerosonde – Aerosonde Mk.4
- General Dynamics ATP/Elbit – Skylark II
(*It remains unclear whether Boeing and Insitu will offer a joint bid or separate bids. If it’s the latter, then count five competitive teams instead of four.)
- Northrop Grumman may offer an undisclosed, internally developed vehicle or the Aurora Flight Sciences GoldenEye-80
- Lockheed Martin maritime systems and sensors (MS2) is looking hard at the requirement, and have access to the brains at Skunk Works.
- BAE Systems has previously mentioned offering the SkyLynx II, and has recently acquired MTC Technologies. MTC was previously involved in the competition with its SpyHawk UAV.
That, my friends, is competition.