The Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) will pick up a signals intelligence (sigint) payload and communications relay (comms) payload in addition to its maritime roles.
With the announcement, the Navy has cleared up some of the uncertainty that arose after announcing the retirement of the EP-3 Aries. Though the Navy announced it would replace EP-3's capabilities with a family of systems, it announced no schedule.
Increment 3 of BAMS aircraft, scheduled to reach service in FY2019, will include a sigint payload. The payload is not meant to fully replace the EP-3, and Navy program manager Captain Jim Hoke said there are ongoing discussions over what capabilities it will possess.
The comms payload will be contained in Increment 2, scheduled to enter service in FY2021. The payload is being designed with relaying data from another BAMS aircraft in the absence of satellite or line-of-sight communications.
Two BAMS aircraft are on the production line. Wiring and hydraulics are being installed in SDD-1, as the first production aircraft is known, at Northrop Grumman's assembly plant in Palmdale, California. Wings are on schedule for delivery in October, with assembly to be completed by December. The second aircraft, SDD-2 will be completed in March or April 2012.
NAS Jacksonville, in the northeast corner of Florida, has been selected as the East Coast base of choice for BAMS and main site for remote piloting. NAS Whidbey Island, in Washington state, is in the running as an additional West Coast base.