US Army close to decision in $400m small UAV contest

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Two companies are vying for a contract worth up to $400 million to supply thousands of backpack-size unmanned aircraft to the US Army over the next five years. The award date is set for mid-October.

The competition reflects a change in procurement strategy for the army’s small unmanned aircraft. Aerovironment received a sole-source deal in 2003 to supply hand-launched Ravens and more than 2,000 have been fielded to date. Last year, the army decided to expand the programme into a five-year production order, and this time called for a contest between existing small unmanned aircraft.

A “Raven-class” system and the Evolution XTS, designed by L-3 Communications subsidiary BAI Aerosystems, were selected to enter the final competitive phase. The army conducted a flying demonstration for both aircraft during September.

The Evolution is an upgraded variant of the Dragon Eye unmanned aircraft designed by the Office of Naval Research and originally produced by Aerovironment, says Dick Bernstein, president of BAI Aerosystems. The Evolution is capable of carrying a 0.7kg (1.5lb) payload and staying airborne for 90min.

The five-year deal calls for the delivery of 4,400 aircraft and 1,100 ground control stations. The system must provide a real-time video feed to ground forces over an operating radius of 10km (5.4nm).

STEPHEN TRIMBLE/WASHINGTON DC