Aerosonde Again? AAI’s MEUAS-II Special Forces UAV Win
It has been a great week for Textron subsidiary AAI. At the end of February, they made a big breakthrough in the US military market, as their Aerosonde-G UAV became 1 of 3 platforms eligible to compete for up to $847 million in US Navy and its allied rent-a-drone contracts. Less than a week later, the firm is walking away with a $600 million sole win of US Special Operations Command’s MEUAS-II UAV services contract, displacing MEUAS incumbent Boeing and its ScanEagle.
The Aerosonde UAV is AAI’s most likely offering for MEUAS-II, but that can’t be confirmed yet…
The only other candidate is AAI’s Shadow UAV, a runway-using drone in wide service with the US Army, USMC, and foreign customers. It can also be launched via catapult, the 200 version lacks the “go anywhere” deployability needed by special forces. A Shadow 400 variant can be recovered aboard ship, but required ship size may be an issue for Special Forces.
The previous MEUAS incumbent, Boeing’s ScanEagle, can be launched from naval platforms as small as Mk.V SEAL boats, from HMMWV jeeps, or from land-based sites, and is recovered using a portable Skyhook system. AAI’s Australian Aerosonde Pty Ltd. subsidiary makes their other UAS offering, and the Aerosonde’s catapult and net system means it can be launched and recovered from the same sorts of platforms as ScanEagle. Asked about this issue, AAI representatives could say only that:
“Before we can make any formal announcements about this award, we need customer approval. I will get in touch with you as soon as I can share more.”
If SOCOM has in fact chosen an Aerosonde model, the implicit endorsement of their award is another huge advance in the platform’s military competitiveness. Before 2012, Aerosonde had little presence in the global military market, and even their home country Australia had chosen AAI’s RQ-7B Shadow as its mid-tier UAV. With its technology validated by 2 huge American contracts, AAI’s Aerosonde UAVs can be expected to be a much more visible and competitive product in global tenders.
That’s good news for buyers, but less so for Boeing/Insitu’s ScanEagle. Their UAV has gone from the sole-source solution in 2 major American contracts, to forced competition in one and no position in the second. The firm’s ScanEagle UAV still has important advantages in its array of specialized variants, from sniper location to WMD/HAZMAT surveillance. Insitu has also stepped up with a larger RQ-21A Integrator UAV as a follow-on offering, and won a significant USMC contract with it. Even so, the MEUAS-II setback may leave Boeing and Insitu debating the need for further investment and upgrades in their core ScanEagle platform.
Contracts & Key Events
March 6/12: AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, MD won a 3-year Mid-Endurance Unmanned Aircraft System II (MEUAS II) contract to provide contractor-owned and operated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance services in support of U.S. Special Operations Command. The value of the contract was approved up to $600 million, but actual spending will be based on task orders. The FBO.gov solicitation stated that:
“The required UAS ISR services require the contractor to conduct all planning, coordination, certification, installation, pre-deployment, deployment, logistics, maintenance, flying, and post-deployment efforts necessary to successfully conduct worldwide missions. The near real time feed of ISR product availability from 300 to 900 hours per site monthly into customer processing systems is required from world-wide locations. Offerors are expected to provide ISR using non-developmental contractor-owned and contractor-operated unmanned aircraft systems… Following contract award, the contractor shall deploy personnel and equipment to commence site operations within 120 days after receipt of order (ARO).”
Boeing’s ScanEagle had been operating under a 5-year MEUAS contract since May 2009, but the somewhat-imprecise wording of public statements and solicitations suggest that MEUAS-II will fully replace the old contract. Work will be performed in Hunt Valley, MD, and overseas. U.S. Special Operations Command Headquarters Procurement Division at MacDill AFB, FL is the contractor.