The battle for perhaps the last major contract to supply UAVs to the US forces for several years has entered an intense final round of evaluations.
At least four contractors vying for a roughly $450 million deal to supply a minimum of 200 small tactical UAS (STUAS) have submitted proposals to the US Navy and Marine Corps. The contract includes nearly $60 million to further develop their vehicles and sensors.
The contract delivers 32 systems, comprised of four vehicles and two ground stations, to the marines, and 24 systems with three vehicles and one ground station to the USN.
The US Air Force and a host of foreign militaries are also closely observing the decision, says Michael Shutty, the USN's deputy programme manager for STUAS. One potential foreign buyer, which Shutty declines to identify, has already submitted a "couple of questions" about the competition, he says.
Among the competitors, the AAI Aerosonde Mk 4.7, Boeing/Insitu Integrator, Raytheon/Swift Engineering KillerBee-4 and the UAS Dynamics Storm have all completed flying demonstrations in Yuma, Arizona. If other bidders participated in the demonstrations, USN officials will not identify them.
Technical and cost data from the proposals is now being evaluated in secret by the source selection advisory committee, and a decision scheduled by the end of September remains on track, Shutty says.
The programme added the requirement for the flying demonstrations, but Shutty emphasises that it was not a "fly-off". But the flights in Arizona's desert are intended to "supplement and complement what they stated in their proposal", Shutty says.
The contract calls for standing up the first operational unit in fiscal year 2012, which is two years later than the USMC's original schedule. But the STUAS bidders can propose to deliver an "early operational capability" in third quarter of 2010. But it is not clear how the programme officials will decide whether the systems are ready.
"There really isn't any criteria, per se," Shutty says. After completing an operational assessment after contract award, a USMC official will decide "whether it is mature enough to deploy in that state".
Separately, the USN also plans to seek proposals next year for a final services contract to provide a STUAS capability, which is being performed by the Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle. It is not clear if the USN will ask for a 20kg (44lb), ScanEagle-sized platform, or something in the 60kg-class, such as Integrator.