Alliant Techsystems has completed a military user assessment and the advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD) of the Outrider tactical unmanned air vehicle (TUAV), leaving the future of the joint US military project in the hands of the US Department of Defense.

The US Navy and Marine Corps are expected to decide soon whether to persevere with the Outrider or switch to a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) craft for its TUAV requirement. Project officials are planning a fast-track acquisition should the go-ahead be given to procure a VTOL vehicle.

Critical to the decision is whether the ACTD's goal of a cost not exceeding $350,000 per sensor-equipped air vehicle has been maintained, as Alliant Techsystems insists. Rival UAV manufacturers believe the cost ceiling has been breeched, but Alliant Techsystems say the cost goal will be met, an assessment it says is shared by the Naval Center for Cost Analysis.

Lt Gen Paul Kern, the US Army's top acquisition officer, says the US Army needs a TUAV, but he does not know if it will be the Outrider. Industry sources say the US Army is also considering dropping out of the TUAV programme. It would instead purchase an interim close-range UAV, then eventually the VTOL UAV to be procured by the USN/USMC.

The sources say the US Army is showing keen interest in the small, lightweight, low-cost STM-5B Sentry UAV made by S-TEC of Mineral Wells, Texas. The Sentry has been selected by the US Army as a sensor testbed.

"The Outrider programme has met all objectives of the ACTD," says Alliant. "The system has performed exceptionally well throughout the military user assessment phase at Fort Hood, Texas and in the final demonstration phases at Hondo, Texas."

Meanwhile, Alliant Techsystems has moved to settle its legal dispute with Mission Technologies, a former partner on Outrider. Faced with a court challenge, Alliant has agreed to pay more than $500,000 in licence fees and royalties.

Source: Flight International