The U.S. military has awarded contracts for UAVs to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) services potentially worth nearly $1.5 billion. The main beneficiary appears to be AAI Unmanned Aircraft Systems, which proposed the Australian-built Aerosonde small unmanned aircraft system.
The Pentagon announced March 5 that AAI, a Textron Systems subsidiary based in Maryland, was awarded a three-year indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract worth up to $600 million for Special Operations Command’s Mid-Endurance UAS II program. The contractor-owned platform to be provided was not disclosed, but has been reported as an Aerosonde-G variant. SOCOM currently uses the Boeing-Insitu ScanEagle under a $250 million ISR services contract awarded in 2009.
Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) said February 29 that it awarded IDIQ multiple award contracts (MAC) worth up to $874 million over five years to AAI, Insitu and CSC. The command will place task orders against the contracts for the Aerosonde, the ScanEagle or CSC’s offer of the T-20, a fixed-wing aircraft manufactured by Arcturas UAV of Rohnert Park, Calif. Navair said tasks performed under the MAC “will require the contractors to provide 24/7 ISR services,” including planning, certification, installation, deployment, logistics, maintenance and flying activities.
AAI also provides the RQ-7 Shadow to the Marine Corps, which is evaluating an armed version, as well as to the U.S., Australian and Swedish armies. Insitu originally developed the Aerosonde in the 1990s with funding from the U.S. Office of Naval Research. It is now manufactured by AAI’s Aerosonde subsidiary near Melbourne, Australia. The air vehicle is catapult-launched and has a maximum takeoff weight of 39 or 55 pounds depending on two engine types, with endurance of 10 or more hours with electro-optic/infrared and laser-pointer payload.
ScanEagle is also catapult-launched, with a maximum takeoff weight of 48.5 pounds and endurance of up to 15 hours. The aircraft has a dual-bay configuration for sensors and can carry the NanoSAR synthetic aperture radar for broad area surveillance. It has been operated by the U.S. Navy and Marines as well as the Australian Army and Canadian Forces.
In July 2010, Insitu was selected to provide its larger Integrator UAS for the Marines’ RQ-21A small tactical UAS (STUAS) requirement for up to 56 systems. The company delivered two early operational capability (EOC) systems, each including four aircraft, a ground control station and launch and recovery systems, to Navair and to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., earlier this year. The Marines ordered the EOC systems following an initial operational assessment at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., early last year. A second STUAS operational assessment is planned for the end of this year, supporting a low-rate initial production decision.