AUVSI: Boeing steps up lobbying pressure for A160 earmark

Boeing has launched a “full-court press” on Congress members to earmark funds in the Fiscal 2010 defense budget to help the A160 Hummingbird program survive a pivotal transition period.

Despite strong interest for the A160 from the US special forces, army, marines and navy, Boeing’s commitment to continue investing in the program without a production contract will reach a “pivot point” some time next year, Vic Sweberg, Boeing’s director for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

In 2008, the A160 completed a decade-long development process funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The Hummingbird’s development culminated in a record-breaking, 18hr flight last year, although the program to date has completed only 150 flight hours, Sweberg says.

SOCOM plans to deploy the A160 to support counter-drug operations in two South American countries later this year, Sweberg says. The US Marine Corps has also selected the A160 to compete for a possible “immediate cargo UAS” contract.

But the program still lacks a production order, and a recent report by the Senate Armed Services Committee warned that Boeing’s production capacity could disappear as early as October.

The A160 also remains a candidate to receive funds from the Joint Improved Explosive Device Detection Organization (JEIDDO), which is seeking a platform to carry the Northrop Grumman vehicle and dismount exploitation radar (VADER), a sensor that can track hundreds of different moving people.

The army and special forces had originally agreed to partner to support the JEIDDO requirement, but funding for the A160 remains uncertain, says Tim Owings, the army’s deputy program manager for UAS. JEIDDO officials are considering other platforms, most likely the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9 Reaper.


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14 Responses to AUVSI: Boeing steps up lobbying pressure for A160 earmark

  1. George Zip 11 August, 2009 at 7:20 pm #

    The selection of the A160 (and K-MAX) for the Marine’s logistics VTUAV fly-off, in preference to the MQ-8B, will be a big motivator for the Hummingbird team. Boeing has for several years been trying to dislodge the lower-tech Fire Scout from its USN and Army applications, and the A160 certainly offers considerable advantages over the 333-based MQ-8B in terms of performance (speed, range, endurance & altitude), payload and growth potential. While N-G only talks] of 6-8 hour endurance, Boeing has actually put its money where its mouth is and proven the A160′s 18+ hour capability.

  2. SMSgt Mac 11 August, 2009 at 8:50 pm #

    It will be interesting to see how the Customer prioritiizes capabilities in the requirements. If priorities come down heavily on endurance over payload, the A160 should win walking away. If priorities come down heavily on payload, the Kaman entry should have the clear edge. If the capabilities sought are more balanced, the ongoing Afghanistan operations may tilt the priorities to payload and lift at altitude which might shift the edge to the Kaman.

    As to Boeing working the system. No surprise there. After all, that IS one of their key business skills.(I note with mixed admiration and trepidation).

  3. PDS 11 August, 2009 at 9:31 pm #

    K-Max is, as yet, not a UAV. I’m not aware that they have flown unmanned. It’s hard to imagine how Kaman will compete with the A160 and its hundred-plus autonomous flight hours. Regardless of the outcome I’d sure like to see a Berlin-airlift-style supply chain run robotically.

  4. SMSgt Mac 11 August, 2009 at 11:13 pm #

    PDS, I believe the author may have meant the ‘Burro’ or derivitive thereof.

  5. Anonymous 12 August, 2009 at 2:12 pm #

    Sure soldiers are excited about Hummingbird, it’s a great potential capability plus they love new toys. But acquisition managers are hesitant to seek POM resources for production — after 10 years of development, only 150 hours (flown in a sterile Boeing environment) means this is still an immature system. How will it perform in weather, in austere environments (dust, mountains)? Lastly, Mr. Trimble, even if your information about classified SOCOM deployment plans was accurate (it’s not), why would you publish this in open source?

  6. Stephen Trimble 12 August, 2009 at 2:36 pm #

    First, how am I supposed to know if information provided to me in an on the record interview is classified?

    Second, I have corrected the reference to the counter-drug operations in the blog. I was told the operation would occur in 2 South American countries, but not that there was a counter-drug mission involved. I apologize for that error.

  7. anonymous 12 August, 2009 at 3:53 pm #

    The A160 has very little flight time and the ex-Frontier team producing it has no successful track record building aircraft. On the other hand, the production K-Max airframe has been reliably flying for many years.

    In the end, the Marines will go with the K-Max and its proven reliability. The A160 is just a stalking horse to get the LM-Kaman price down.

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