AUVSI: Boeing steps up lobbying pressure for A160 earmark

Washington DC
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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, says 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, 18h 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 Improvised 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 (GA-ASI) MQ-9 Reaper.