The US Navy has awarded its much-anticipated small tactical unmanned aircraft systems (STUAS) contract to the Boeing/Insitu Integrator, having had the decision in a holding pattern since last October.
The Boeing subsidiary will be a prime contractor for the first time under the two-year $43.7 million engineering and manufacturing development deal, awarded on 29 July. Harris Corp, Corsair Engineering and Black Ram Engineering will partner with Insitu on the programme.
Two assessments will run in tandem, one to support low-rate initial production of two systems, one each for the US Navy and US Marine Corps, and the other to determine if an early operational capability option will be exercised leading to the fielding of up to five systems in fiscal 2011.
The advantage to quickly deploying Integrator alongside Boeing/Insitu's already-fielded Scan Eagle, which uses the same launch and recovery systems, is that the Scan Eagle's current fee-for-service contract limits the way the UAS is deployed, says Steve Sliwa, Insitu chief executive officer, with Boeing/Insitu employees usually operating the aircraft in the field due to liability issues.
"Now that there's official procurement, there's the option to give sailors, marines or soldiers a chance to actually operate the system," he says. "Or have a combination of Insitu and military operators in the field."
Initial operating capability for Integrator is expected in the fourth quarter of FY2013. The contract calls for operability on the navy's L-class ships; the service is still sorting through integration issues for the Insitu UAS on other vessels. Though there is much commonality with Scan Eagle, Integrator, with its multiple payload capability is considerably larger and more powerful, with a maximum speed of 90kt (166km/h), boxy 25x25cm (10x10in) fuselage and 24.9kg (55lb) empty weight, compared to the Scan Eagle's 48kt, 7in round fuselage and 20kg empty weight.
Three companies in addition to Boeing/Insitu submitted bids for the STUAS/Tier II contract. AAI submitted a proposal based on the Aerosonde Mk 4.7. A General Dynamics/Elbit Systems joint venture UAS Dynamics offered Storm and the Raytheon/Swift Engineering team proposed the flying wing KillerBee-4.
"Raytheon is disappointed with the STUAS/ Tier II decision as the KillerBee unmanned aircraft system offers the war fighter an affordable, reliable solution for persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the littoral environment," Raytheon says.
There was no word on if the other competitors intend to protest the decision at the time this article was posted.