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U.S. Navy Plans Unmanned Aircraft Development Program

by: Matthew Potter
September 12, 2011

Category: Bell, Boeing, Business Line, Companies, Department of Defense, development program, Editorial, Events, Federal Budget Process, ISR, Kaman Corp, Lockheed Martin, Military Aviation, Proposal, Services, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy | RSS 2.0

The United States has invested a large amount of money the past two decades into unmanned aerial vehicles. Used primarily by the U.S. Army and Air Force they originally conducted reconnaissance and intelligence gathering missions. Since 9/11 several have been weaponized and carried out precision strike missions. The U.S. Navy while doing some R&D has not purchased a full up system yet to be based on ships. This, though, is about to change.

The Marine Corps and Navy are already conducting research into unmanned cargo systems that might eventually replace the current MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters made by Sikorsky for that mission. These lift loads from supply ships to combat ships as part of underway replenishment. Lockheed Martin (LMT) and Kaman (KAMN) are doing work with the K-Max helicopter to see how well it works as an unmanned platform.

The Navy just announced the start of a new program called Medium Range Maritime Unmanned Aerial System (MRMUAS) which will begin in FY12 with a goal of entering production late in this decade. The MRMUAS will be primarily oriented towards Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions and will be ship based.

As with many programs recently started by the Pentagon several development contracts will be awarded to various companies which will then lead to one or more of them being selected for further development and production.

Several existing systems being developed by defense contracts are certainly available to be proposed for this effort including the K-MAX being looked at for the cargo mission as well as Bell, a part of Textron (TXT), and Boeing (BA) products. This also does not rule out a new development effort for this requirement by any defense contractor.

The shift to using UAS for current manned missions will continue for the foreseeable future. Budget pressures may cause these programs to be delayed or even eliminated especially if there is major cost growth in core Navy systems such as the F-35 JSF or ship construction. Unfortunately as has been shown in the past investment in new systems and technologies may take a back seat to the funding of more important programs. If the Navy has to choose between its newest manned aircraft, new submarines and aircraft carriers over UAS vehicles it will probably be an easy decision.

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