US agency invites applicants to oversee consortium formed to develop operating system

After some delay, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has invited bids for the controversial role of integrator/ broker (I/B) on the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) programme. Proposals are due by 26 July.

The unique role has been created because DARPA has decided to form a consortium to develop the J-UCAS common operating system (COS) - the software suite that will enable interoperability between multiple air vehicles and ground stations and allow for the integration of sensors, weapons and communications equipment (Flight International, 27 April-3 May).

The two J-UCAS prime contractors - Boeing, developing the X-45C, and Northrop Grumman, developing the X-47B - will be part of the consortium, as will be a range of "technology contributors", the firms providing software functionality to the COS.

The I/B's role will depend on how well Boeing and Northrop Grumman co-operate on development of the COS, says DARPA. If the primes work together harmoniously, the I/B will be an observer. If they cannot or will not co-operate, the agency says, the I/B will take over integration of some or all of the COS.

Only current and prospective air-vehicle primes are precluded from bidding for the I/B role, but DARPA believes the winner will be a team of organisations providing the broad range of skills required and having the critical mass to take over development of the COS if required. The winning bidder will be given four months to establish the desired consortium. If the air-vehicle primes do not co-operate with the I/B during the consortium's establishment, DARPA says it could make the integrator/broker the COS developer.

Publicly, Boeing and Northrop Grumman support the consortium, approach, but privately both have expressed concerns over how far DARPA plans to push commonality. With the J-UCAS operational assessment phase set to begin in 2007, DARPA is concerned about the immaturity of COS software applications, particularly for autonomous inter-platform collaboration.

The US Air Force plans to use the J-UCAS for suppression of enemy air defences, electronic attack and precision deep strike, with development beginning in 2010. The US Navy is interested in the unmanned system for carrier-based persistent surveillance and reconnaissance.



Source: Flight International