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Department of Defense Awards Several UAV Related Contracts

by: Matthew Potter
September 28, 2010

Category: Australia, Boeing, Business Line, Companies, Contract Awards, Countries, DARPA, Department of Defense, development program, Events, General Atomics, Military Aviation, production program, QinetiQ, S&T, Services, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy | RSS 2.0

For the last month the United States’ Department of Defense has been awarding a variety of contracts to support development, testing and operations of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) systems. These have played a major role in the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) missions as well as attacking enemy personnel and assets.

The U.S. Air Force also operates the long range, high endurance Global Hawk from Northrop Grumman (NOC) that provides strategic collection capability. The system is being developed as well for the U.S. Navy and Australia for their Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) mission.

The U.S. continues to invest in these systems through a variety of contracts including a recent development effort to Boeing (BA) for a solar powered, high altitude, long endurance system. The $89 million contract to the company and its partner QinetiQ is part of the Defense Advanced Research Products Agency (DARPA) Vulture program. The goal of this effort is to build a system that could remain airborne for up to five years providing reconnaissance and communication relay capability. In a way to fly an airplane rather then a satellite to provide some capability at a lower cost.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) won a Navy contract to support test and design efforts for future UAV systems. The school along with its partners operates a test facility that would provide harsh environments for these efforts. The contract could be worth up to $47 million if all options are exercised. The vehicle will allow the Navy to task the school to quickly react to requirements or efforts.

In another contract that supports existing systems the U.S. Air Force gave General Atomics a contract for six more MQ-9 Reaper systems. General Atomics makes the heavily used Predator and Reaper systems. The Predator was originally designed for ISR but has been armed with Hellfire missiles and provides precision strike for the Air Force and C.I.A. The Reaper is a bigger, more capable evolution of the Predator. This contract has a value of over $38 million.

These contracts indicate the U.S. commitment to unmanned programs. The different services will continue to develop and increase the capability of them as well as use their existing systems. The UAV market will see growth in the near future even as the defense budget declines and more traditional weapons see less investment. Right now there are limitations on these type of aircraft but as they are developed further these will be reduced. They do offer advantages over manned aviation assets chiefly because they do not put any crew at risk. They also may be smaller and more stealthy and have high endurance. They also have the possibility of offering more bang for the buck.

The UAV market continues to be one where small companies as well as large will focus on developing systems, sensors and the data lins necessary to control them.

Photo from Rob Shenk flickr photostream.

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