Finally, after a delay of more than 18 months, the U.S. Navy has released the request for proposals for its Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (STUAS), which the Marine Corps will also operate as its Tier II UAV. At stake is a substantial contract for at least 56 systems, each with three air vehicles.
STUAS/Tier II is described as a "small, organic, high-duration UAS" and will replace the land- and ship-based ISR services currently provided by Boeing using the ScanEagle from its Insitu unit. Requirements are a bit vague, as the Navy has not yet publicly released the performance-based specification, but the desired endurance is 10h-plus carrying an EO/IR sensor and communications relay payload.
KillerBee (Photo: Raytheon)
All the likely bidders are hunkered down, saying nothing now the RFP is out, so when it comes to identifying candidates all we know is those who declared their hand in advance, including: AAI (Aerosonde Mark5); Boeing Insitu (ScanEagle or Integrator); General Dynamics/Elbit Systems (Skylark II); and Raytheon/Swift Engineering (KillerBee).
The Navy's own potential bidders' list also identifies Advanced Ceramics Research (being purchased by BAE Systems), DRS Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Schiebel Technology and Stark Aerospace (a US subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries) as possible prime contractors. But all the bidders will have to perform a flight demonstration within the next couple of months to qualify, which raises some questions.
AAI, Aurora, Boeing, GD and Raytheon all have their contenders flying. Advanced Ceramics doesn't have a big enough UAV, but BAE back in 2006 did fly the Skylynx II, which was aimed at the then-separate Tier II requirement but has not been heard of since. DRS could offer its Sentry UAV (developed by S-TEC, but the design was acquired by DRS some years ago) or even the Falco from fellow Finmeccanica company Selex Galileo.
Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have not publicly revealed their plans. Schiebel's Camcopter S-100 is flying, but the STUAS/Tier II requirement does not call for VTOL capability - the reason Aurora Flight Sciences has decided not to bid with its ducted-fan GoldenEye 80). Stark could offer one of IAI's many UAVs, but frankly I am having difficulty working out which!
Skylark II (Concept: Elbit Systems)
There are a few other names listed by the Navy's as potential subcontractors that could lead to a surprise bid or two. Acuity Technologies, which is developing the AT-3 Owl air-launched UAV; Aeromech Engineering, which has flown the flying-wing Fury; L-3 BAI Aerosystems, which produces the Viking family of tactical UAVs; and Mission Technologies, which builds the joined-wing Buster.
The delay in harmonizing Navy and Marine Corps requirements and finalizing the RFP has pushed the initial operational capability date for STUAS/Tier II back from the original Fiscal 2010 to the fourth quarter of Fiscal 2012. But the Navy plans to decide soon after contract award whether to field an early operational capability using UAVs operated and maintained by the winning contractor. That would seem to favour a system already developed and ready to go.