RQ-16: Future Combat Systems’ Last UAV Survivor Falls
The USA’s Future Combat Systems Class I UAV is intended for reconnaissance, security and target acquisition operations in nearly all terrain, including urban environments. Each system of 2 vertical take-off and landing air vehicles, a dismounted control device, and associated ground support equipment. They can be carried by selected platforms and dismounted soldiers, and possess autonomous flight, navigation, and recovery.
The larger Class II and Class III UAV development programs were canceled in favor of existing options: the RQ-7 Shadow, and MQ-1C SkyWarrior. The planned Class IV MQ-8B Fire Scout was canceled by the Army in 2009, though it will see naval use. Despite excellent field reports for mini-UAV competitors like the RQ-11 Raven, however, Honeywell’s hovering RQ-16 “T-Hawk” initially avoided the axe, found a niche, and made the list for the US Army’s early increment 1 Brigade Combat Team Modernization fielding. It has even seen limited exports – but the Class I program has been canceled.
The Class I MAV
At about a foot in diameter and 11kg/ 25 pounds fully fueled, the RQ-16 T-Hawk is noticeably bulkier than mini-UAVs like the RQ-11 Raven. The ducted fan air MAV (Micro Air Vehicle)/ T-Hawk flies like a helicopter, using a specially designed fan enclosed in a duct that is driven by a a 3 KW/4 hp 3W-56 56cc Bower Twin piston gasoline engine. The fan draws air in through the top of the duct and expels it out the bottom to provide thrust.
The thrust produced by the duct and fan combination is powerful enough to enable the MAV to hover, as well as fly at speeds up to 40 knots/ 74 kph and altitudes of up to 5,000 feet, in winds up to 15 knots/ 27 kph, for up to 45 minutes. The T-Hawk is controlled in flight by micro-electrical mechanical devices, and guided via a flight management subsystem, loaded into a laptop. Honeywell also provides the UAV’s electronic sensors.
The Navy’s RQ-16B Block 2 comes with a number of changes. In an effort to reduce the number of pre-setup tasks for the operator, an automatic fuel-air mixture control eliminates the need for operators to manually tune the carburetor prior to each flight, forcing them to expose themselves for engine warm-up and then again at launch. A Gimbaled Electro-Optical or Infra-Red payload and a digital video radio will help stabilize the camera on targets, while allowing better compliance with theater frequency spectrum requirements. RQ-16 Block 3s add the army’s digital datalink (DDL).
As of August 2010, feedback from the front is focused on 3 main upgrades, while civil use pushes a different addition and development looks at a new variant.
With its ducted-fan “hover and stare” capability well-proven by over 12,000 test flights as of August 2010, one focus of ongoing work has been the UAV’s small engine that can run on the same heavy fuels that power US military vehicles and aircraft. RQ-16 Block 2 & 3 T-Hawks can fly with heavy fuel instead of aviation gas, but only if the engine is warmed up first. That usually isn’t practical in the field, and the troops want something that is practical.
The 2nd field request involves an external mount that could be used to launch the MAV without having to leave the vehicle and expose the operator to enemy fire. the 3rd involves improved sensors that integrate both day cameras and infrared cameras. The civil upgrade involves R&D on a light enough “Mode S” transponder that can relay the UAV’s position, and allow it to use civil airspace without a waiver.
In terms of future variants, the BCTM(Brigade combat Team Modernization) program plans to add an Increment 2 “objective” MAV. Honeywell is working with Swift Engineering on a larger 18kg/ 40 pound vehicle with a 15hp heavy fuel engine.
The MAV Program
The Class I requirement was just 1 of 4 categories under Future Combat Systems. In October 2005, “Four FCS UAV Sub-Contracts Awarded” tended to focus on the larger Class II company and Class III battalion-level options, while a FOCUS Article covering the MQ-8B Fire Scout addresses the Class IV brigade-level UAV. The 2007 reorganization of the FCS program, canceled the Class II UAV in favor of the existing RQ-7B shadow, and the Class III in favor of the MQ-1C ER/MP. With the Army’s 2009 cancellation of its intended Class IV MQ-8B orders, the RQ-16 is the only survivor left in the Army.
Boeing issued Honeywell a system engineering contract in December 2004, for a gap analysis aimed at identifying what still needed to be done to transition the DARPA vehicle to an FCS-compliant Class I UAV system. In October 2005, an extended, nearly $3 million contract allowed Honeywell to continue the systems engineering analyses, leading to a System Functional Review in March 2006. The Class I unmanned aerial vehicle was also tested in Hawaii by 29th Infantry Division Soldiers working through a mission readiness exercise, where it proved very successful, and in limited combat deployment in Iraq as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal UAV.
Success in this and other areas has led to a Class I UAV System Development and Demonstration contract for Honeywell, and a US Navy order for up to 185 systems in January 2008. NAVAIR’s Navy and Marine Corps Small and Tactical Unmanned Air Systems program office at Patuxent River, MD (PMA-263), runs that program, which is currently targeted at Joint Explosive Ordinance Disposal units.
Given Honeywell’s head start, and orders to date, their T-Hawk platform always had the inside track as the Army’s preferred Class I platoon-level UAV. With Future Combat Systems on shakier ground, however, the RQ-16 Tarantula Hawk will have to compete with systems like Textron’s RQ-11 Raven, Aerovironment’s Puma AE, and other mini-UAV options used by American forces. The alternative to a future as the top platoon-level UAV in the US military is a solid and nearly-unassailable niche with combat engineers and explosive ordnance disposal teams, and a limited urban role in the regular force thanks to its unique “hover and stare” capability. In that alternative future, Honeywell’s T-Hawk still winds up as a just one player among many in the overall mini-UAV space, due to its higher weight and costs.
On the civilian side, the Miami-Dade police department is evaluating a commercial version of the T-Hawk. While “hover and stare” is specially useful to combat engineers and EOD teams, it’s also very important in urban environments, which could make it a popular tool for high-end law enforcement work. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFS) is considering it for the national wildlife refuges along the US-Mexico border, which often harbor heavily armed drug gangs and methamphetamine labs.
MAV design and fabrication takes place at Textron subsidiary AAI’s Hunt Valley, MD facilities, with final system integration and testing completed at Honeywell’s Defense Electronics facilities in Albuquerque, NM. Honeywell believes their MAV system has potential commercial applications in Homeland Defense, forestry service, law enforcement, and even building and bridge inspections.
Contracts & Key Events
Note that each ordered system consists of 2 T-Hawk UAVs and 1 ground control unit, plus spares, training for operators and maintainers, and initial field support.
Work will be performed in Albuquerque, NM, and is expected to end in September 2013. US Naval Sea Systems Command’s Indian Head Division in Indian Head, MD issued the contract (N00174-12-D-0006).
Jan 6/11: The US Army issues a stop-work order on the Class I Unmanned Aerial System (RQ-16 T-Hawk), as part of the E-IBCT next-generation brigades. Formal termination and the payment of appropriate termination fees may take a while to negotiate.
In light of the Oct 22/10 order, this could become a major opportunity for the competing Puma AE, a hand-launched mini-UAV that may end up muscling out of its remaining route clearance role. Defense News.
Dec 10/10: Honeywell International Defense and Space in Albuquerque, NM received a $6.6 million contract modification to buy 9 T-Hawk systems and spares for the United Kingdom under the Foreign Military Sales Program.
Work will be performed in Albuquerque, NM, and is expected to be complete in December 2011. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD anages the contract on behalf of its Foreign Military Sale client (N00019-09-C-0004).
Oct 22/10: AeroVironment, Inc. in Simi Valley, CA receives a $17.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee letter contract, which establishes not-to-exceed amounts for Puma-AE capable contractor logistics support, training, and accounting for contract services in support of Joint Urgent Operational Need Statement CC-0289, entitled, “Unmanned Aircraft Systems for Route Clearance.”
AeroVironment confirms that this order is for the regular army, not SOCOM. The RQ-16 T-Hawk ducted fan UAV is supposed to be handling that special niche, but the Puma would appear to have carved out a place, thanks to its stabilized EO/IR payload, and added conventional reconnaissance capabilities. The January 2011 stop-work order on the RQ-16 makes this a significant order, deserving of inclusion here. Work is to be performed in Simi Valley, CA, with an estimated completion date of Oct 14/11. One bid was solicited with one bid received by U.S. Army Contracting Command, CCAM-AR-A at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-11-C-0004).
Aug 24/10: Honeywell announces an $11 million contract for low-rate initial production of the T-Hawk for the US Army, as part of the Brigade Combat Team Modernization (BCTM, Increment 1) program’s initial brigade set. They will provide RQ-16 UAV systems, training and logistics support. LRIP production will allow for the capabilities to be fielded to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Armored Division, for initial operational test and evaluation beginning in 2011. Honeywell.
Aug 17/10: A Flight International article suggests that the RQ-16’s loud whine may not be a big problem:
“Army officials do not appear to be overly concerned with the T-Hawk’s lack of stealth as a result of its operating noise (some describe it as a very loud high-pitched whine). “It may not matter that it’s loud,” says Col Greg Gonzalez, the army’s programme manager for unmanned aircraft. “If it meets the niche capability for our forces, we will continue to refine it.”
The key words are “niche capability.” A loud whine is not a major disadvantage when the UAV is providing top-view escort to a noisy convoy of vehicles. It would become a much bigger problem if troops were expected to use it as their key squad UAV, as envisioned under Future Combat Systems. Overall, the comment strongly suggests a shift toward a future as just one player, with a niche role, among the US military’s wider set of hand-launched UAVs.
Aug 12/10: After sharp criticism of BCTM-I equipment performance in previous tests, Boeing announces improved results during July 2010 tests at White Sands Missile Range, NM, intended to simulate conditions in Afghanistan. Testing included the Network Integration Kits (NIKs), Tactical and Urban Unattended Ground Sensors (UGS), the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV) and the Class 1 Unmanned Air Vehicle (RQ-16 T-Hawk). BCTM Increment 1 capabilities also took part in the Army Brigade Combat Team Integration Exercise conducted there from July 12-16.
The RQ-16 T-Hawk UAV completed 250 successful flights without a hard landing, while exceeding the test’s image transfer requirement and meeting the requirement for operating distance from the NIK.
July 8/10: The British Ministry of Defence discusses RQ-16 use in Afghanistan, under a multi-firm GBP 180 million effort called Project Talisman. Thales leads the Urgent Operational Requirements project, which includes Force Protection’s blast-resistant Mastiff and Buffalo vehicles, JCB’s up-armored engineer/excavators, QinetiQ’s Talon robots, and Honeywell’s RQ-16 T-Hawk UAVs. UK MoD.
March 10/10: In testimony before the House Armed Services Air and Land Power subcommittee, Congress’ GAO criticizes aspects of the Army’s Brigade Combat Team Modernization, Increment 1 early fielding items. This includes the T-Hawk:
“As noted in 2009 test results, system performance and reliability during testing was marginal at best. For example, the demonstrated reliability of the Class I unmanned aerial vehicle was about 5 hours between failure, compared to a requirement for 23 hours between failure. The Army asserts that Increment 1 systems’ maturity will improve rapidly but admits that it will be a “steep climb” and not a low-risk effort.”
Lt. Gen. William N. Phillips, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, responds. He adds another issue, but contends that soldiers like the system:
“We are not going to field anything that is not suitable, effective, on the field of battle for our Soldiers… Some of [the sensors] are about almost twice the weight they should be… [and the Class I UAV is] “a noisy system that we need to reduce the decibels on the field of battle… The current Class 1 UAV weighs about 17 pounds, it provides a hover-stare capability… Soldiers like this system, it provides great intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability, great situational awareness of what’s happening on the battlefield.”
See Opening Army/ DoD statement [PDF] | US Army release.
Sept 25/09: Better sensors coming for tiny UAVs. Aviation Week reports that a team of U.S. Navy engineers and scientists are modifying medical imaging that had been developed to keep precise track of tiny medical cameras that snake through human internal passages, to extract precise targeting information from low-quality video.
The goal is to extract an aim point for a GPS-guided weapon. An associated US Navy TENCAP research effort called Radiant Virgo combines UAV video with high-resolution, 3-D terrain models to derive precise coordinates for GPS-guided weapons in real-time.
Sept 24/09: More T-Hawks for USA and Britain. Honeywell International, Inc. in Albuquerque, NM receives $30.9 million modification to finalize a precious contract (N00019-09-C-0004) to a firm-fixed-price structure. In addition, this modification adds another 46 RQ-16 Block II micro aerial vehicle systems for the US Navy (40, $28.2 million, 91.5%) and the United Kingdom (6, $2.6 million, 8.5%), with associated spare parts, engineering support services, and training.
Under this contract, the USA has now announced orders for 130 T-Hawk systems of an expected 185, and Britain has ordered 12.
Work will be performed in Alburquerque, NM, and is expected to be complete in September 2011. Contract funds in the amount of $299,717 will expire at the end of FY 2009, which is about a week away. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages this contract.
Sept 21/09: The US Navy announces that it will authorize full fielding of the RQ-16B T-Hawk Block II Micro Air Vehicle, after incorporating and evaluating several improvements to the system. PMA-263 program manager, Capt. J.R. Brown:
“It’s a timely 75 percent solution… The T-Hawk is being used by joint force EOD units in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other locations, to locate and identify Improvised Explosive Devices. Delivery of the 90 systems is scheduled to be complete by December .”
Full fielding signifies that all system capability improvements have been tested, evaluated, and proven to be operationally suitable and logistically supportable.
Sept 12/09: Future Combat Systems’ Increment 1 spinout, otherwise known as Early-Infantry Brigade Combat Team (E-IBCT) capabilities, complete a Limited User Test at Fort Bliss, TX. The Limited User Test was a 3-week independent review of the maturity, readiness, and functionality of E-IBCT capabilities that included unmanned ground and air vehicles, sensors, precision launch systems and network integration kits.
Honeywell’s MAV was part of these tests, conducted by FCS Lead System Integrators Boeing and SAIC, and developed and overseen by the US Army’s Test and Evaluation Command. Results will be compiled in an assessment report later in 2009, as part of the process leading to limited-rate initial production. The goal is to field E-IBCT capabilities to 7 Infantry Brigade Combat Teams, beginning in 2011. Boeing release.
June 29/09: A $12.6 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for 12 months of contractor logistics support (CLS) “for the Gasoline Micro Air Vehicle… with options for unit training and additional 12 months of CLS.”
Work is to be performed in Albuquerque, NM, with an estimated completion date of July 3/11. One bid solicited with one bid received by U.S. Army Contracting Command CCAM-AR-A at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-08-C-0094).
Jan 12/09: Honeywell International Defense and Space Electronic Systems in Albuquerque, NM received a not-to-exceed $5.7 million modification to a previously awarded, unfinalized contract (N00019-09-C-0004). The modification will buy 6 T-Hawk Block II systems for Britain (12 MAVs), including associated support equipment, spares, training, and engineering and logistics support under the Foreign Military Sales Program.
Work will be performed in Albuquerque, NM, and is expected to be complete in June 2010. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract. See also Aviation Week.
Nov 3/08: Honeywell International Defense and Space Electronic Systems in Albuquerque, NM receives a not-to-exceed, unfinalized $65.5 million contract for 90 Block II Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) systems, including associated support equipment, spares, training, and engineering and logistics support.
Hardware deliveries of the 90 systems will begin in the second quarter of 2009, and conclude in December 2009. Overall work will be performed in Alburquerque, NM, and is expected to be complete in December 2011. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1, by the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-09-C-0004). See also Honeywell release.
March 26/08: Miami Vice? Reuters:
“A small pilotless drone manufactured by Honeywell International, capable of hovering and “staring” using electro-optic or infrared sensors, is expected to make its debut soon in the skies over the Florida Everglades. If use of the drone wins Federal Aviation Administration approval after tests, the Miami-Dade Police Department will start flying the 14-pound (6.3 kg) drone over urban areas with an eye toward full-fledged employment in crime fighting.”
Jan 22/08: The USA’s FedBizOpps carries a US Navy announcement that:
“In accordance with 10 U.S.C 2304(c)(2) as implemented in FAR 6.302-1, “Only One Responsible Source,” the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) intends to issue a sole source, firm fixed price contract with Honeywell Corporation for the procurement of 185 RQ-16A Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) Systems, with estimated deliveries commencing in June 2008 and concluding November 2008. This procurement is to fulfill the rotary-wing portion of the Joint Urgent Operational Need Statement (JUONS) CC-0100. Specific requirements stated in the JUONS included, but are not limited to, 25 pound maximum air vehicle weight; 40 minute minimum endurance; 40 knot minimum airspeed; 5000 feet AGL minimum service ceiling; 3 pound minimum operational payload; and air vehicle hover capability. Honeywell is the only known source that can immediately provide a rotary-wing micro air vehicle that supports the Government’s urgent needs as documented in JUONS CC-0100.”
Contracts are expected to follow. FedBizOpps | Flight International.
July 6/07: Flight International reports that Honeywell is gearing up to be able to build as many as 100 micro air vehicles a month by the end of 2007, in anticipation of production orders resulting from the in-theater assessment now under way in Iraq.
A demonstration has been conducted in France, and another is planned for the UK in August 2007. Honeywell says the system price (2 two MAVs and a ground station) will be competitive with Aerovironment’s hand-launched RQ-11 Raven mini-UAV, which has earned favorable reviews of its own from the troops.
July 2/07: Under a $7.5 million contract, the US Navy has purchased and used about 12 MAVs for training and deployment to Iraq. They are being used in an EOD (anti-land mine) capacity, as quick surveillance that can be launched at any time and flown below altitudes that create airspace deconfliction issues. Flight International report.
Dec 19/07: UK company RCV Engines has been selected to produce a demonstrator heavy-fuel (JP8, used for jets and many land vehicles) engine, based on its patented rotating cylinder valve (RCV) technology, for Honeywell MAV. The RCV design has a cylinder that rotates around a conventional piston at half crankshaft speed, its single port passing fixed inlet and exhaust ports as it rotates.
Privately owned RCV is best known for its model-aircraft engines, but funding from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has moved them into the defense market with heavy fuel alternatives. The 60cc-capacity, 4-stroke engine being considered for the Class 1 MAV is expected to deliver about 4.2hp (3.1kW) at 8,200 rpm using JP8 fuel. Flight International report.
Aug 9/06: Honeywell & UAV maker AAI announced that they were to deliver 20 prototype Class I UAVs. Under terms of this latest contract, AAI will deliver 20 Class I prototype air vehicles. Large-scale production is expected following successful qualification testing.
May 24/06: DID – Honeywell Lands FCS Class I UAV Contract. A $61 million RDT&E contract, with first prototype deliveries and flight tests scheduled for December 2008.
Feb 17/06: DID – FCS Class I UAV: Honeywell Orders 55 MAV Airframes. United Industrial Corporation subsidiary AAI has now received a $1.7 million order from Honeywell Aerospace for 55 Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) airframes. In this funding phase, AAI will incorporate new design innovations into the airframe and build and deliver the 55 vehicles for final systems integration. They will be used in DARPA’s Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program.
Oct 19/05: SpaceWar reports an announcement from FCS Lead System Integrators Boeing and SAIC that Honeywell’s Class I UAV Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) has achieved a technology readiness level 6 rating based on testing successes. This allows them to begin transitioning the technology from a demonstration stage with DARPA to competition and inclusion in the FCS program.
- Honeywell Aerospace – Unmanned Air Systems. Has some details concerning the RQ-16, which it calls the Micro Air Vehicle (MAV). See also their Catalog entry.
- Designation Systems – Honeywell RQ-16 T-Hawk
- Flight International (Aug 17/10) – Honeywell readies T-Hawk incremental and leap upgrades
- UK MoD (Aug 11/10) – ‘Flying Robot’ pilot helps find IEDs in Helmand
- HASC (March 10/10) – Hearing on Army Acquisition and Modernization Programs for FY 2011 Video webcast and Part II | Army statement [PDF] | OSD testimony [PDF].
- US GAO (March 10/10, #GAO-10-493T) – Opportunities for the Army to Position Its Ground Force Modernization Efforts for Success. Testimony to HASC.
- Design News (June 15/09) – Surveillance Relies on Unmanned Flying Vehicles: Flight, payload technologies in pilotless MAVs drive their capabilities
- US Army (Feb 13/07) – Soldiers Like FCS Test Systems So Much, They Don’t Want to Return Them
- DID (Dec 21/05) – FCS Spin-Out Plans Detailed.
- DID (Oct 11/05) – Four FCS Sub-Contracts Awarded. Mostly covers Class II and Class III UAVs, but explains where the Class I MAV fits and adds some coverage.
- Defense Review (Nov 27/05) – Micro Air Vehicle: Backpackable UAV for Tactical Reconnaissance & Surveillance
- National Defense Magazine (May 2004) – Infantry Troops Will Test Backpack-Size Drones. Preview re: the Army’s 25th Infantry Division’s tests, which were conducted in Hawaii.
- Military.com SoldierTech – HOVERING CAMERAS: The Future of Surveillance
tag: mavclassi, mavuav, fcsmav