The future of the Alliant Techsystems Outrider tactical unmanned air vehicle (TUAV) is under new threat after a US Department of Defense report criticised the system for failing to meet several key flight test requirements and exceeding the promised purchase price by 50%.

The damning preliminary findings on the Outrider's 26-month advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD) will be scrutinised by the Pentagon's Joint Requirements Oversight Council, which will determine the future of the programme.

The US Navy and US Marine Corps are already seriously considering a switch to a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAV. The US Army may purchase an interim close-range UAV, such as the lighter, lower-cost S-TEC STM-5B Sentry and then procure as a long-term solution the future VTOL system chosen by the USN.

Critical to the Outrider's future is the ACTD's goal of a price ceiling of $350,000 for delivery of the 33rd sensor-equipped air vehicle, reducing to $300,000 for the 100th aircraft with a sensor package. The Pentagon programme manager says that it would cost $545,000 and $448,000 respectively to produce the 33rd and 100th Outrider.

Alliant Techsystems says that cost-cutting measures would reduce the price to $347,000 and $295,000. The Navy Center of Cost Analysis believes the actual figures are $579,000 for the 33rd air vehicle and $434,000 for the 100th sensor-equipped UAV.

Rear Adm Barton Strong, head of the UAV joint project office, has expressed serious concern over the Outrider's failure to meet cost and performance requirements. "The combination of meeting deployability and mobility requirements, achieving satisfactory shipboard operations, providing a heavy fuel engine and simultaneously reducing unit production costs is high risk," Strong says.

He adds that it would take at least 18 months and cost $20 million or more to demonstrate the Outrider's ability to operate from USN warships. It would take a minimum of 24 months to improve the TUAV's on-station endurance, reduce launch and recovery distances and cut production costs.

Alliant Techsystems says the Outrider "-is field-tested, proven and cost-effective". Flight testing has resumed after an investigation showed that the 10 August crash of an Outrider was not caused by a problem with the TUAV system.

Source: Flight International