The US Department of Defense Joint Requirements Oversight Council has agreed to let the US Navy and the US Marine Corps switch to a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned air vehicle (UAV), while allowing the US Army to procure the Alliant Techsystems Outrider UAV.

The decision will dramatically reduce the number of Outrider systems that Alliant hopes to sell to the US military. Industry officials believe the US Army will order improvements to the UAV, which scored mixed results in a 26-month advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD). Production costs have also been a point of contention, and officials speculate that performance requirements such as range will be compromised to cut costs.

Alliant was selected in May 1996 over eight other bidders to produce the Outrider. The firm received $53 million to providesix machines, with four air vehicles and sensors per system and eight attrition vehicles, for the ACTD.

As the Outrider suffered technical setbacks, VTOL UAV makers successfully completed a three-month flight trial at the Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona.

The USMC has finalised a VTOL Tactical UAV operational requirements document, and military project officials have begun planning fast-track acquisition. The demand is for a 135kt (250km/h) cruise with a desired top speed of 200kt. Potential candidates include Bell Helicopter's Eagle Eye, Bombardier CL-327 Guardian or the in-development higher-speed CL-427 Puma.

The operational requirement says that the USMC requires 11 VTOL UAV systems (with four air vehicles per system) while the USN plans to buy 12 systems. "The US Army may require a VTOL UAV system to meet projected future Corps and Division TUAV requirements," the document says.

Source: Flight International