Companies are lining up for the U.S. Navy’s medium-range, maritime unmanned aerial system (MRMUAS) requirement, a planned follow-on to the MQ-8B Fire Scout.
Start-up company AVX Aircraft, a proponent of a compound helicopter design with coaxial, contrarotating main rotors and dual ducted fans in place of a tail rotor, said it has partnered with BAE Systems to propose a MRMUAS concept. AVX was formed at Fort Worth, Texas, by former Bell Helicopter engineers. It already has a contract to study the configuration for the Army’s Joint Multi-Role (JMR) demonstrator program.
MRMUAS is envisioned as a multi-intelligence (MultiINT) platform operating from aircraft-capable ships and providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) in the maritime and littoral domains. In a broad area announcement dated September 15, the Navy said it would like to field a limited MRMUAS capability as early as 2016, with initial operational capability by 2019.
The service plans to award up to four study contracts of no more than $500,000 each to analyze requirements and define design concepts. Contractors chosen for a second, 10-month option phase will focus on maturing the requirements and finalizing their design concepts. No contract for both phases will exceed $2.5 million.
While the Navy seeks a future unmanned ISR platform, it also plans to award a contract for 28 MQ-8C Fire Scouts to meet an urgent operational requirement by 2014. Based on the Bell 407 airframe, the MQ-8C will be larger, with longer endurance than the current MQ-8B operating from naval ships, which is based on the Sikorsky-Schweizer 333. A spokesman for Northrop Grumman, prime contractor for both the B and C variants, said the MQ-8C contract is still being negotiated. Northrop Grumman also has responded to the MRMUAS solicitation, he said.
AVX and BAE said their proposal combines the former’s patented aircraft configuration with BAE’s common autonomous mission systems, payloads, mission-control system and support capabilities. “After examining a range of air vehicle options for MRMUAS, including modifying existing commercial and military helicopters, BAE Systems and AVX concluded that the Navy’s requirements cannot be met by systems currently on the market,” the companies stated.
In late September, AVX announced a $4 million contract award from the Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate to conduct configuration and trades analysis studies of its design for the JMR helicopter, envisioned to enter service in 2030. AVX also has proposed a substantial redesign of the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior for the Army’s armed aerial scout (AAS) requirement. However, the Army has said it would like to conduct a flying demonstration of different AAS proposals by next spring.