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New contract helps UTAS speed up recce pod deliveries

United Technologies Aerospace Systems reconnaissance pods could be delivered for foreign customers up to a year faster under a new type of contract awarded by the US Air Force on 21 February, a company executive tells FlightGlobal.

Increasing demand for the DB-110 reconnaissance pod had been one of the drivers for recent complaints by industry and foreign military officials about the slow pace of US government approvals under the normal process, says Kevin Raftery, vice-president and general manager of UTAS.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency administers the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) process. It would often take a year between a country’s selection of a product and contract award, allowing the contractor to begin building the equipment for delivery, Raftery says. That prompted then-Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James to make a pledge at the Dubai air show in 2015 to find ways to speed up the process.

The new contract for DB-110s is an early example of one of the reforms the USAF adopted, Raftery says. Instead of awarding a typical contract, the USAF signed an umbrella agreement with a $22.9 million ceiling with UTAS with no fixed deliver dates or quantities. As countries come forward with new acquisitions, the USAF simply awards new task orders to UTAS.

“We’re really happy to have this,” Raftery says. “I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it takes at least a year out of the process.”

In the near-term, the new indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract will add a 14th country to the list of operators for the DB-110, he says. The country has not authorised UTAS to name them, but it involves a Lockheed Martin F-16 operator, he says.

In the longer-term, UTAS expects to add four to six customers for the DB-110 under the new contract, he says. One of the customers, if confirmed, would add the Boeing F/A-18 to the list of platforms using the DB-110.

The DB-110 is a descendant of the senior year electro-optical reconnaissance system (SYERS) developed for the Lockheed Martin U-2, as that storied reconnaissance aircraft converted from film to digital imagery three decades ago. In the absence of a strategic reconnaissance fleet, many foreign operators have integrated the DB-110 on fighters, the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 and the Bombardier Global Express business jet to serve as a long-range reconnaissance platform.

The original version of the pod was integrated on the Royal Air Force GR.4 Tornado fighter as the RAPTOR pod. As that type is being replaced with the Eurofighter Typhoon, UTAS has participated in RAF studies on how to replace the long-range reconnaissance system, Raftery says. A challenge is the limited space available on the Typhoon, although UTAS has proposed re-packaging the system in a pod with the same measurements as the centreline fuel tank.

“It may be on [a RAF] unmanned [system]. It could find that the mission is going to get satisfied by their Reapers or they’ll put it on manned [aircraft],” Raftery says.

UTAS is also continuing to self-fund a new version of the pod called TacSAR, which swaps the imagery sensor inside the DB-110 with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar with a ground moving target indication mode.