The US Navy's interest in vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned air vehicles (UAV) is being rekindled with a competitive fly-off, which is expected to lead to the service fielding a UAV to supplement the Alliant Techsystems Outrider Tactical UAV.

US Navy plans for a maritime VTOL UAV were shelved five years ago because of budget constraints. Interest has been resurrected, however, because of a funding windfall and growing interest within USN circles in a VTOL UAV.

Congressional backers of the substantially improved Bombardier Canadair CL-227 Sentinel, dubbed the Puma, added $15 million to the Department of Defense's (DoD) fiscal year 1997 budget to test the drone further. The DoD instead won permission to use the funding to conduct land-based and at-sea trials of as many as three VTOL UAVs.

While saying that the USN and US Marine Corps are "fully committed" to the Outrider, Adm. Jay Johnson, the Chief of Naval Operations, adds that a VTOL UAV may be "part of a tactical capability solution".

"Whether Outrider is successful or not, we believe it is important to determine if there are valid fleet requirements for a VTOL UAV, which may well provide important capabilities to our naval expeditionary forces that fixed-wing UAVs can't provide," he says.

USN fleet commanders unanimously backed fielding of a VTOL UAV to supplement the Outrider, which they say is the USN's "number one UAV requirement".

The USN will conduct a VTOL land-based flight demonstration with an option for sea-trials.

A draft request for proposals (RFP) will be issued shortly by the USN, with the formal RFP following in June.

Industry sources believe that six-month contracts will be awarded in October to as many as three firms for a land-based flight demonstration.

Bell Helicopter Textron is expected to offer its Eagle Eye UAV in a fly-off which is likely to include the Puma. Boeing is also believed to be interested in the project, with the Heliwing tail-sitter drone, and Dornier with the Seamos UAV.

Source: Flight International