USMC looks past Pioneer

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Initial US Marine Corps requirements for a new unmanned aircraft system, called VUAS, have been endorsed by the Department of Defense, and industry expects a competition in either the fiscal year 2008 or 2010 budget cycle. The VUAS is planned to be in service by 2015, to replace the USMC’s Pioneer unmanned air vehicle, writes Graham Warwick.

Bell Helicopter plans to offer its Eagle Eye unmanned tiltrotor for the requirement, while Northrop Grumman is expected to compete with the RQ-8 Firescout vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAV. Boeing could offer the A160 Hummingbird, Unmanned Little Bird or even the Canard Rotor Wing.

“We will proceed with an analysis of alternatives to see what is available,” Maj John Giscard, head of the unmanned aircraft systems branch of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, told an Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Washington, DC. The Pioneer “lacks range” he said, but will be sustained until it can be replaced in 2015.

Industry has not seen the initial requirements, but Bell’s unmanned programmes director, Jon Rudy, expects the USMC to want VTOL as well as sufficient speed to operate its Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor transports and to team with its Bell AH-1Z attack helicopters. The USMC is also moving to a distributed force that will require rapid retasking of the UAV, he said.

The USMC is looking at three tiers of UAS, Giscard said, with the Pioneer/VUAS as the longest-range system. Tier 1 is a short-range vehicle, currently the Aerovironment Dragon Eye, but likely to be replaced by the Joint Small UAS. The USMC plans a concept demonstration for a longer-range Tier 2 UAS, and is also experimenting with Aerovironment’s micro-sized Wasp as a close-range “sub-Tier 1” UAS, he said.