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US military launches bidding war for small UAS contract

The US Navy and US Marine Corps have launched bidding for a new fleet of small, long-endurance unmanned aircraft systems, with as many as 11 different competitors potentially interested.

The small tactical UAS (STUAS)/Tier II contract fills one of the US military's last open requirements for an unmanned aircraft, replacing Boeing/Insitu's contractor-operated Scan Eagle system.

Flying for up to 10h at medium altitude, the up to 68kg (150lb) platform would initially use its camera to spot targets and its laser designator to cue shooters, plus relay communications. The same type could also later be weaponised and used to collect signals intelligence data.

A wide range of Israeli and US aircraft are prepared for the competition. The field of potential bidders includes all major primes, including BAE Systems/Advanced Ceramics Research, Boeing/Insitu, General Dynamics/Elbit Systems, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon/Swift Engineering. Other known candidates include AAI/Aerosonde, Alion, Aurora Flight Sciences, DRS Technologies, Honeywell, Scheibel and Stark Aerospace.

Aurora and Northrop have previously discussed teaming for the STUAS/Tier II contract, but the status of their current relationship was not immediately available.

The USN joined the programme in August 2007, adding a shipboard compatibility requirement to the list of platform capabilities. The navy is also buying STUAS for special warfare teams. The USMC plans to operate its Tier II platform, which is equivalent to the USN's STUAS, as a land-based asset.

The services' combined requirements cover the purchase of 56 UAS systems, each including three aircraft, three payload packages and one ground control system.

A new programme schedule outlined in solicitation documents reveals that the date for initial operational capability has slipped by one year until the end of fiscal year 2012.

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