The USN’s Rent-A-UAV Contract, 2012-2017
At the end of February 2012, the US Navy moved to diversify its sources of contracted UAV services. Boeing’s ScanEagle has performed that role since 2004, providing a complete turnkey service for the US Navy and Marines. ScanEagles were involved in some of Iraq’s fiercest fights, the SEAL operation that rescued the Maersk Alabama, and other operations ranging from concept tests to full combat. They’ve also been used by American allies as an outsourced service, with rent-a-UAV customers in Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands.
Under the new umbrella agreement, which could issue up to $874 million in contracts over 5 years, the US Navy and its international partners will be able to choose between 2-3 vendors, each of whom offers a different platform.
Boeing’s ScanEagle/ NightEagle is the best known competitor, with a long record of Navy service and a number of specialty variants. It’s launched by a portable catapult, and a recovery tower unfolds to provide a catch-line for its return.
We asked Boeing’s Insitu subsidiary if they had offered their new RQ-21A Integrator UAV for this contract, as a follow-on to its STUAS-II contract win for the USMC. They confirmed that they did not submit Integrator for this contract, though the larger UAV is launched and recovered using the same methods as ScanEagle. Its endurance and more versatile payload remain an option for other competitions whose requirements demand it.
Aerosonde 4.7G. Textron subsidiary AAI acquired the Aerosonde UAV in 2006, before Textron bought AAI itself in 2007. The small Aerosonde UAV fits in a size class below AAI’s well-known RQ-7 Shadow, but despite good flight performance, this is its first major dent in the global UAV market. The Aerosonde UAV has participated in tests aboard US Navy vessels, flown into the eye of a hurricane, and even demonstrated its endurance by flying across the Atlantic from Newfoundland, Canada to Scotland in 1998.
The version being offered for NAVAIR’s contract is the new 70-pound Aerosonde G, a follow-on model to the Aerosonde 4.7 that participated in USN tests aboard the Stiletto. Aerosonde UAVs are recovered using a fold-out net that rises above their portable catapult launcher.
T-20.. Earlier reports had CSC in a relationship with Saab around their Skeldar helicopter UAV, but CSC has finally confirmed that their platform is the fixed-wing Arcturus T-20, which can fly a 35 pound payload for more than 16 hours. Payload is this UAV’s big advantage: it can carry up to 65 pounds.
The US Marines have been considering the T-20 as a potential armed platform, the US Naval Postgraduate School has used it, and the T-20 has been involved in private experiments that used ADS-B/ Mode-S to avoid collisions with civil aircraft. CSC and Arcturus are only eligible for the land-based task orders under this contract.
Contracts & Key Events
Under the contract, AAI provides up to 3,600 hours per month of ISR services and manages all operations and maintenance of the UAS for up to 1 year, with options to extend. AAI is concurrently supporting training and UAS familiarization exercises at Twentynine Palms, CA, for the Marine Corps. US NAVAIR.
Oct 24/12: Civil UAVs. Sagetech, Arcturus Demonstrate Joint Manned, Unmanned Aircraft Operations using COTS NextGen ADS-B/ Mode-S Tracking. ADS-B is the civil standard that will be used by the American FAA’s forthcoming air traffic management system. A UAV that could fly in civil air space would be a big step forward, and similar systems could help prevent collisions with military aircraft and helicopters. Sagetech.
Oct 22/12: Aerosonde in Antarctica. Textron’s AAI operating unit announces that its Aerosonde system recently logged 168 flight hours in the frigid, harsh climate of Antarctica, supporting meteorological research by the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, and Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. Each Aerosonde aircraft was outfitted with meteorological instruments to measure pressure, temperature, relative humidity, winds, net radiation, surface temperature and ice thickness.
That’s a pretty harsh proving ground, and will be of interest to customers like the US Navy. AAI.
Feb 29/12: NAVAIR awards the 5-year umbrella UAS-ISR contract for “services in support of the Department of Defense and other government agencies, as well as potential coalition military Foreign Military Sales customers.” The contractors will provide UAVs, ground equipment, operators, certification, installation as required, maintenance, and other forms of product support.
As usual in these cases, task orders will be awarded as they come up, with AAI’s Aerosonde-G and Insitu’s ScanEagle eligible to compete for both sea-based and land-based task orders. Left-field winner CSC is only eligible to compete for land-based task orders, using the Arcturus T-20 UAV.
Work will be performed at various sea-based and land-based locations inside and outside the continental United States, and will run until February 2017. These contracts were competitively procured via a multiple award electronic request for proposals; and 3 offers were received by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD. Eligible contractors include:
- AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, MD – land and sea (N00019-12-D-0009)
- CSC in Falls Church, VA – land (N00019-12-D-0010)
- Insitu, Inc. in Bingen, WA – land and sea (N00019-12-D-0011)
Aug 18/11: Shephard reports on CSC’s US Navy ISR bid:
“Speaking to Shephard, company executives confirmed that Saab North America had submitted its offer on 14 July as part of the CSC bid. The maritime component of the navy requirement calls for seven Arleigh Burke class destroyers to be equipped with five or six air frames each in order to provide between 300 and 600 hours of full motion video a month.”
- DID – From Dolphins to Destroyers: The ScanEagle UAV
- Aerosonde – Products
- Saab Group – Skeldar V-200 Land
- Smithsonian Magazine (June 2011) – Drones are Ready for Takeoff. Covers both the ScanEagle and Aerosonde, whose inventors are linked.
- AIN Online (Nov 11/07) – Saab rotary UAV casts off for sea duty