Its initial battles were fought within the Pentagon, but the US Army’s high-end UAV has made its transition to the battlefield.
The ER/MP program was part of the US Army’s reinvestment of dollars from the canceled RAH-66 Comanche helicopter program, and directly supports the Army’s Aviation Modernization Plan. The US Air Force saw this Predator derivative as a threat and tried to destroy it, but the program survived the first big “Key West” battle of the 21st century. Now, the MQ-1C “Gray Eagle” is in production as the US Army’s high-end UAV. As CENTCOM’s wars end, however, the Gray Eagle may find that staying in the fleet is as hard as getting there.
This FOCUS article offers a program history, key statistics and budget figures, and ongoing coverage of the program’s contracts and milestones.
With General Atomics MQ-1A/B Predators, MQ-1C Gray Eagles, and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs all headed for the skies above the conflict zone, our readers have asked us to help them tell the difference. It’s clear that all 3 share a design philosophy, but their capabilities diverge in important ways.
The MQ-1 Predator is 27 feet long, with a 55 foot wingspan. Its maximum gross takeoff weight is 2,300 pounds, and it can carry 625 pounds of fuel, 450 pounds of internal payload (sensors), and another 300 pounds on its wings for up to 2 AGM-114 Hellfire anti-armor missiles or equivalent loads. Its service ceiling is 25,000 feet, which can keep it well above the 10,000-15,000 ft ceiling above which most guns are ineffective. The piston engine is a Rotax 914 turbo that runs on aviation fuel, and pushes the Predator at a slow speed of 120 KTAS. It’s controlled by UHF/VHF radio signals, and is designed to be flown by a pilot – without automated takeoff and landing.
The USAF also had an MQ-1B Block X/ YMQ-1C project underway, to develop a Predator system that would run on heavy fuel and carry up to 4 Hellfires. That project, and questions of cross-service compatibility, died when the USAF stopped buying MQ-1 Predators, and shifted its focus to the larger MQ-9 Reaper instead.
The MQ-9 Reaper, once called “Predator B,” is somewhat similar to the Predator. Until you look at the tail. Or its size. Or its weapons. It’s called “Reaper” for a reason – while it packs the same surveillance gear, it is much more of a hunter-killer design than its counterparts. The Reaper is 36 feet long, with a 66 foot wingspan. Its maximum gross takeoff weight is a whopping 10,500 pounds, carrying up to 4,000 pounds of fuel, 850 pounds of internal/ sensor payload, and another 3,000 pounds on its wings. The MQ-9 has 6 pylons, which can carry GPS-guided JDAM family bombs and other MIL STD 1760 compatible weapons, Paveway laser-guided bombs, Sidewinder missiles for air-air self defense, and AIM-114P Hellfire missiles or laser-guided Hydra rockets. With that arsenal the Reaper becomes the equivalent of a close air support fighter with less situational awareness, less speed and less survivability if seen – but much, much longer on-station time than its manned counterparts.
The Reaper’s service ceiling is 50,000 feet unless it’s fully loaded, but even the lower altitudes it usually flies at make a lurking MQ-9 very difficult to find from the ground, and the ability to drop GPS and laser-guided bombs makes high-altitude precision strikes fperfectly plausible. The engine is a Honeywell TPE 331-10T, which pushes it along at a rather speedier clip of 240 KTAS. Not exactly an F-16, or even an A-10, but the extra speed does get it to the problem area more quickly when a call comes in from the troops.
Several MQ-9 variants exist. An extended range variant adds fuel tanks, and lengthens the wingspan to 88 feet. US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) also flies the MQ-9 Reaper, and has its own MQ-1 Predator program, too. Both UAVs are referred to as Medium Altitude Long Endurance Tactical (MALET) platforms. If SOCOM has to bring the MALET to hammer a target down, or soften it up, they fly in enhanced variants with improved video transmission, infrared modifications, signals intelligence payloads, and “delivery of low collateral damage weapons.” The latter presumably includes precision mini-missile options like Raytheon’s Griffin, and precision glide bombs like Northrop Grumman’s GBU-44 Viper Strike and Lockheed Martin’s Scorpion, all of which allow a single Hellfire rail or weapon station to carry multiple weapons.
General Atomics’ Mariner maritime surveillance UAV and FAA-certified high-altitude Altair research UAV are both derived from the MQ-9 Reaper. So, too, is NASA’s Ikhana.
The MQ-1C Sky Warrior/ Gray Eagle looks a lot like the Predator, but it’s a little bit bigger, can carry more weapons, and has an engine that can run on the same “heavy fuel” that fills up the Army’s land vehicles. The initial engine was Thielert’s 160hp Centurion, but the firm filed for insolvency after substantive revelations of accounting fraud (q.v. May 17/08), and in July 2013, its commercial assets were bought by China’s AVIC. Gray Eagles will continue to fly with existing stocks of the Thielert engine, but new UAVs will fly with Lycoming’s 250hp DEL-120.
Maximum operating altitude is 29,000 feet, at a speed of up to 135 knots. The sensor turret payload was initially Raytheon’s AN/DAS-2, but has shifted to the final “Army Common Sensor Payload” AN/AAS-53 variant. The Army also added a communications relay, and has been working to give the UAV “sense and avoid” capabilities for safety in crowded airspace.
An Improved Gray Eagle variant was introduced in July 2013, and this type has flown a 45 hour mission in unarmed configuration. It includes the new Lycoming DEL-120 engine, and a heavier airframe thanks to a deep belly design that raises internal fuel load from 575 pounds to 850 pounds. A 500-pound wet centerline hard point can be used to push the UAV’s fuel total to 1,350 pounds. The new MQ-1C IGE also has a maximum 540-pound internal payload capacity, compared to the MQ-1 Block 1’s 400 pounds. The end result is a maximum takeoff weight that rises from 3,600 pounds to 4,200 pounds.
Beyond its standard equipment, the US Army is also developing and qualifying new payloads for the MQ-1C fleet, thanks to efforts by Product Manager RUS (Robotic and Unmanned Sensors) and PM-ARES (Airborne Reconnaissance and Exploitation Systems).
AN/AAS-53 CSP+. Raytheon’s base Common Sensor Payload (CSP) is being upgraded, and CSP High Definition (HD) is planned for production cut-in in FY 2013. It adds high-definition Full Motion Video (FMV) in both the Electro-optical and Mid-wave IR spectrums. A retrofit plan will begin in FY 2014 to convert all MQ-1Cs to CSP HD. The Army sees CSP Target Location Accuracy (TLA) as the final upgrade, upgrading targeting accuracy to allow timely use of GPs-guided bombs and missiles. All Gray Eagles will eventually be equipped with CSP TLA.
AN/ZPY-1 STARLite-ER. Northrop Grumman’s Small Tactical Radar – Lightweight (STARLite) Synthetic Aperture Radar/ Ground Moving Target Indicator (SAR/GMTI) is a lightweight, high performance, all weather radar that can track small moving ground targets, down to small car size, even in bad weather. It cross-cues with the UAV’s cameras, and enhancements have been approved to extend its range, and detect man-sized targets. STARLite ER (Extended Range) has been cut into production since FY 2011, and began fielding and retrofitting in FY 2012. The Army plans to buy 1 STARLite ER system per UAV.
Sense and Avoid. Ground Based Sense and Avoid (GBSAA) is a system designed to be aware of other aircraft, especially in civil airspace, and help avoid collisions with the MQ-1C. The Phase 2, Block 0 system will provide the operator with an air traffic display, color-coded to reflect the highest-priority potential conflicts. The Block 1 system will add recommended maneuvers to avoid crashing into others. That isn’t the full sense-and-avoid you’d see on a commercial jet, but by 2015 it will let the Army fly the UAVs from Fort Hood, TX; Fort Riley, KS; Fort Stewart, GA; Fort Campbell, KY; and Fort Bragg, NC, through Class D military airspace, to nearby test ranges without a manned chase plane. As the acronym suggests, making this work requires certain equipment in place on the ground at those locations.
Traveler Pod. BAE’s pods are designed to find and eavesdrop on electronic emitters, identify them (enemy radio communications? radar? etc.), then offer aerial precision geolocation (APG) and copying. SIGINT/ELINT pods and equipment can already be installed in larger UAVs like the USAF’s RQ-4 Global Hawks, and aboard light surveillance planes like the Beechcraft King Air MC-12Ws. The challenge is to shrink them and their supporting systems within the MQ-1C’s weight and size limits.
NERO pod. Provides electronic jamming that can prevent remote detonation of land mines, giving the UAV a very useful convoy overwatch role. It can also disrupt enemy communications. Raytheon’s NERO is adapted from the CAESAR pod that equips manned C-12 (Beechcraft King Air) turboprops. Initial deliveries took place in 2013.
The Gray Eagle began in August 2005, as “Team Warrior” won a $214.4 million contract to develop the Extended Range/ Multi Purpose Unmanned Aerial Vehicle System (ER/MP UAS). The Army wanted its ER/MP UAV to fill both surveillance and attack roles. General Atomics’ Sky Warrior, derived from their famous MQ-1 Predator, beat the Hunter II system offered by Northrop Grumman, Aurora Flight Systems, and IAI.
That was just the first step along the US Army’s $5 billion road to fielding a true Medium Altitude, Long Endurance, armed UAV, modified from the USAF’s famous MQ-1 Predator. Its position got a boost when a 2007 program restructuring short-circuited the Future Combat Systems Class III UAV competition, in favor of ER/MP. That decision has held, and the UAVs are now operated by the US Army and by SOCOM’s “Night Stalkers” regiment.
The Systems Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of GA-ASI’s multi-year ER/MP contract began with 17 MQ-1C UAVs, and 7 One System Ground Control Stations (OSGCS). Those pre-production Block 0 Gray Eagles began flying on the front lines, in Quick Reaction Component (QRC-1, 1R, and 2) deployments which began in December 2009. QRC drones are unarmed, and lack other key capabilities. Even so, the Army has been very enthusiastic about their performance.
As of 2013, the current plan reorganized its 152 planned buys to equip 10 active duty divisions, 2 special operation units, 2 aerial exploitation units, and the National Training Center. Gray Eagle companies are equipped with 9 UAVs and 5 Ground Control Stations each. Only deployed units get the extra 3 aircraft, drawn from stateside units, to bring their division up to 12 MQ-1Cs. Gray Eagle companies fit within each division’s Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB), following a model initiated in March 2012 at the 1st Infantry Division. Once the division’s UAVs are broken down, each CAB would end up with 4 Gray Eagles, 8 smaller RQ-7B Shadows, and 35 mini-UAVs.
A few years after the ER/MP program began, General Atomics-ASI’s Steve May was already saying that “The Army is now as large a customer for us as the Air Force.” At the time, the firm saw a potential market for as many as 540 “Sky Warrior” UAVs – 45 sets of 12 UAVs each for each brigade, plus accompanying ground stations and crews. The Army’s production program grew five-fold, but it’s still only about 30% of that maximum prediction, and remains far behind the USAF.
As the MQ-1C transitioned into production, Pentagon documents began breaking the program out from its USAF counterparts. The total program, including both the initial development contract and follow-on production, looks like it will be worth almost $5 billion. Budgets from 2004-2017 include:
There’s also a manpower equation for the Army, which affects ongoing operating costs. Those aren’t found in these budgets, but they make up well over half of a program’s actual lifetime cost. Fully automated take-off and landing (ATLS) systems are becoming more common among UAVs, and the MQ-1C’s ATLS is an important difference from the USAF’s MQ-1 Predators, which have all flight operations handled by pilots. While the initial batch of Gray Eagle UAVs will be flown by Army aviators, the Army plans to assign future MQ-1Cs to non-pilot warrant officers with UAV training. That’s a less expensive proposition, in terms of both salary and training costs. It’s also less expensive in terms of lost UAVs, as ATLS seems to lead to fewer crashes.
Key MQ-1C industrial partners include:
September 9/19: Performance Based Logistics Support General Atomics Aeronautical Systems won a $29.3 million contract modification for performance based logistics support on the MQ-1C Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft System. The General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle is a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS. It was developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for the United States Army as an upgrade of the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator. The Gray Eagle unmanned combat vehicle has a maximum altitude capability of 29,000 feet and can take-off and land without operator assistance. The drone’s payload includes advanced sensing gear, four GBU-44/B Viper strike bombs, and up to four Hellfire missiles or eight AIM-92 Stinger missiles. At the beginning of August it was reported that a Gray Eagle drone has crashed near Bagdad in Iraq. General Atomics will perform work under the modification in Poway, California and estimated completion date is September 4, 2020.
August 1/19: Initial Spares and Ground Support General Atomics Aeronautical System won a $21.7 million contract modification in support of the MG-1C Gray Eagle extended range aircraft unique initial spares and ground support equipment. The General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle is a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aircraft system (UAS). It was developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for the United States Army as an upgrade of the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator. Its endurance is about 30 hours and it can fly up to 280 km/h (170 mph). It has four hardpoints for four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles or four GBU-44 Viper Strike. General Atomics will perform work in Poway, California. Estimated completion date is July 21, 2021.
July 1/19: Based Logistics Support Services General Atomics Aeronautical Systems won a $22 million modification for support services on the Gray Eagle UAV. The deal calls for procurement of performance based logistics support services for the MQ-1C Gray Eagle drone. The Gray Eagle is a 3,600-pound, 28-foot-long drone with a 56-foot wingspan. It has a range of 2,500 nautical miles and a ceiling of 25,000 feet. Its mission set includes, but is not limited to, wide-area Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), convoy protection, Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detection and defeat, close air support, communications relay, and weapons delivery missions. General Atomics will perform work at General Atomics’ facility in Poway, California with an estimated completion date of June 30, 2020.
April 23/19: Support Services The US Army contracted General Atomics with $99 million in support of the MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAS. The deal provides performance based logistics support services for the Unmanned Aircraft System. The Gray Eagle UAS addresses the need for a long-endurance, armed, unmanned aircraft system that offers greater range, altitude and payload flexibility over earlier systems. US Army Special Operations Forces and Intelligence and Security Command have two Gray Eagle Extended Range (ER) systems, which include 12 unmanned aircraft, six Universal Ground Control Stations, nine Ground Data Terminals, three Mobile Ground Control Stations, one Satellite Ground Data Terminal, an automated takeoff and landing system, LMTVs, and other ground-support equipment operated and maintained by a company of 165 Soldiers. Work will take place in Poway, California and is scheduled to be completed on April 23, 2024.
October 25/18: Logistics General Atomics is being awarded with a modification to a previously awarded contract. The modification is priced at $192.6 million and provides for continued performance-based logistics services through April 23, 2019. The MQ-1C Gray Eagle is quite similar to the Predator, but it’s a little bit bigger, can carry more weapons, and has an engine that can run on the same “heavy fuel” that fills up the Army’s land vehicles. The drone can fulfil both surveillance and attack roles. The UAVs are now operated by the US Army and by SOCOM’s “Night Stalkers” regiment. Work will be performed at GA’s factory in Poway, California.
August 24/18: Support Services The US Army is contracting General Atomics for further engineering services in support of its Gray Eagle UAS. The modification to previously awarded contract has a value of $11 million. The MQ-1C Gray Eagle is based on the MQ-1 Predator, but it is bigger, can carry more payload and has an engine that runs on the same kind of fuel that is used to power US Army vehicles. Its expansive mission set includes, but is not limited, to wide-area Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), convoy protection, Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detection and defeat, close air support, communications relay, and weapons delivery missions. The Gray Eagle, equipped with signal jammers, will likely be one of the Army’s primary electronic warfare platform. Work will be performed at the company’s location in Poway, California and is scheduled for completion by end of September, 2019.
December 29/17: Contracts-Support & Services The US Air Force (USAF) has awarded General Atomics a $328.8 million contract for MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft support and services. Under the terms of the agreement, GA will be tasked with “core management, logistics support, configuration management, technical manual and software maintenance, contractor field service representative support, inventory control point management, flight operations support, depot repair, and depot field maintenance,” according to the notice published on December 22. Work will take place at Poway, Calif., and is expected to be completed by December 2018.
October 13/17: General Atomics announced this week that it has officially switched production of its MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAV over to the longer-range variant, the MQ-1C ER Gray Eagle Extended Range. The new UAV will be tasked with long range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, in addition to aiding in communications relay and the delivery of weapons to assist ground forces. Recent endurance tests of the new long range drone saw it fly for 41.9 hours, significantly more than the 25-hour capability of the current variant. The firm said the first four MQ-1C ER aircraft are currently being used for developmental testing and will progress to follow-on operational test and evaluation next spring 2018, with customer deliveries of MQ-1C ER to proceed from summer 2018.
September 26/17: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has been awarded a $27 million US Army contract modification for service support to the Gray Eagle unmanned aerial system program. Work will be performed in Poway, California, with an estimated completion date of March, 17, 2019. Derived from the Predator UAV, the Gray Eagle conducts intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and strike missions. It has space for mounting electro-optical and infrared cameras for target detection and can mount up to four Hellfire laser-guided missiles. It can also carry its own laser designator for targeting of its own ordnance or for other platforms.
September 13/17:The US has deployed the MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAV to the island of Mindanao “in support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) counterterrorism efforts.” The drone’s 25 hour endurance is expected to allow for “a larger area of reconnaissance and surveillance” on the island, where Manilla has been battling an islamist insurgency focused on the besieged city of Marawi. However, Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte continued his criticisms of Washington policy, reiterating his displeasure in receiving expensive second-hand equipment from the US. “For me, everything has to be brand-new. All the planes and helicopters will have to be brand-new. Your guns, I want just one source for it. I’m not going to mention what country it is but it’s just two — two countries.” He did not reveal who those two countries were.
February 26/17: After 21 years of service, the MQ-1 Predator UAV will be retired in 2018. The USAF will instead opt for a full MQ-9 Reaper fleet citing better equipment and overall operational capabilities such as bigger payloads, higher flight ceilings, and top speeds. As a result, the USAF will no longer have to maintain a training pipeline or equipment on two separate aircraft, which eliminates the cost of operating two different airframes. Speaking on the Reaper, 432nd Operations Group commander Col. Joseph said in a statement “I think when we look at the legacy of the MQ-1 we’re going to be scratching our heads wondering how we did so much with so little.”
December 28/16: General Atomics has been contracted to perform MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper support services for the USAF. Under the $359 million contract, the company will be tasked with conducting logistics support, program and configuration management, depot repair, and additional services, with work to be completed in December, 2017. Both the Predator and its successor, the Reaper, have been used by the US and UK for intelligence gathering missions as well as targeted strike operations as part of counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East.
October 6/16: India is anxious to close a number of defense and nuclear related deals with the Pentagon as the Obama administration enters its final months. Deals including the purchase of 22 MQ-1 Predator UAVs are in advanced stages of negotiations and should be finalized within the coming months. But with a potentially radical regime change on the cards in Washington, New Delhi may want to capitalize on the good relationship between leaders Modi and Obama as the prospect of an “America First” Trump administration may spark a US pullback from Asia.
December 2/15: A US Air Force MQ-1 squadron has been deactivated in Djibouti, raising doubts over the continued use of UAVs in combat operations based out of the area. The 60th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron had flown over 24,000 hours between November 2014 and October 2015. During this period, the MQ-1s neutralized 69 enemy fighters, including five high valued individuals. Based out of camp Lemonnier, the MQ-1s were involved in operations not only on the African continent, but in the Gulf region as well. It is unclear if other units are operating UAV missions from the base or its network of camps and outposts or if the 60th is to be replaced.
October 16/15: A $121.4 million order for 19 MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs back in June has now been revealed as the first order for the Improved Gray Eagle configuration, first introduced in July 2013. The new model uses a heavier airframe and a new engine to increase fuel capacity, range, internal payload weight and take-off weight. The Army is also now looking to introduce more weapon options and other improvements for the Gray Eagle.
October 15/15: As the Army looks to standardize equipment to better enable Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T), the datalink equipping AH-64E Apaches will be replaced by one capable of operating across a broad spectrum of bandwidths used by various UAV systems. L-3 was awarded a contract last month for the MUM-TX datalink capable of operating across this spectrum, with this set to equip the future Apache fleet. In June the Army carried out a MUM-T test involving an AH-64 Apache and a MQ-1C Gray Eagle, with the Apache demonstrating the ability to launch a Hellfire missile using data remotely received from the UAV’s sensors.
Meanwhile, the Army is looking to field a wider array of weapons on the MQ-1C, with a particular focus being given to cheap, small munitions to complement the expensive AGM-114 Hellfires to which it sis currently limited. The program office is also looking for subsonic, lightweight weapons weighing around 30lb. The Hellfire currently weighs in at 105lb, with the reduced weight allowing for more weapons to be carried by the UAV. The Army also wants to implement a host of other improvements to the Gray Eagle, including more jam-resistant datalinks and assured position navigation and timing.
June 25/15: The Army has successfully conducted Manned Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) involving an AH-64 Apache and a MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAV. The Gray Eagle was used to designate a target for the Apache, with the latter then firing a Hellfire missile using data from the UAV. The test has allowed the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade to certify the Fort Stewart complex for live Hellfire tests, an important tool as access to training ranges in Afghanistan and Iraq has diminished.
In related news, the Army awarded a $121.4 million contract to General Atomics on Tuesday for nineteen MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs, with these set for delivery by 2018. This follows a comparable contract in March, also for nineteen Gray Eagles, with that contract valued at $133 million. The company was also awarded a $84.8 million contract in May for performance-based logistics to support the UAV.
March 17/15: 19 More.The Army awarded General Atomics a contract for 19 Gray Eagle UAVs, as part of a $132m contract which also included SATCOM terminals and support.
April 23/14: Sensors. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in Linthicum Heights, MD receives a $40.7 million firm-fixed-price multi-year contract to provide up to 94 STARLite ground-looking SAR/GMTI radar systems. A system consists of 1 Aviation (A-Kit) and 1 B-Kit.
All funds are committed immediately, using mostly FY 2013 funds and some FY 2014 funds. Work will be performed in Linthicum Heights MD, and the estimated completion date is April 22/17. One bid was solicited and 1 received by the US Army Contracting Command in Aberdeen, MD (W15P7T-14-C-C005).
March 31/14: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2013, plus time to compile and publish. The MQ-1C is a stable design, but:
“Program officials said they are considering a change to the aircraft tail, which would be costly and require retrofitting the entire fleet. The program is also developing a new ground control station which will not undergo operational testing until May 2015. In addition, a production readiness review conducted in support of the program’s full-rate production decision identified several high risk supplier base issues that pose uncertainty for the program’s cost and schedule.”
Supplier issues include the new engine, “…and the Defense Contract Management Agency are also tracking other risk items related to multiple suppliers’ financial concerns as well as quality control….” Program officials say that have mitigation strategies are in place if something goes wrong.
Finally, the Ground Control System has been criticized in past evaluations. The Army is moving to new hardware and software, with follow-on testing planned in May 2015. If it goes well, the Army would begin deploying the new GCS to new and fielded units.
March 4-11/14: FY15 Budget. The US military slowly files its budget documents, detailing planned spending from FY 2014 – 2019. FY 2015 is the last year of Gray Eagle production: 19 UAVs, 19 Satellite Airborne Data Terminals (SADT), Government Furnished Equipment (GFE), Ground Based Sense and Avoid (GBSAA) Block 1 software, and site preparation and fielding for 2 locations. Payloads and Universal Ground Control Station systems will still be bought for a few more years.
For R&D, the Army continues development and integration of changes to the the Universal Ground Control Station, the GBSAA system as an alternate means of FAA compliance in properly-equipped civil airspace, and a signals intelligence (SIGINT) capability.
Nov 19/13: SOCOM. The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (“Night Stalkers”) receives the 1st of E-Company’s 12 MQ-1C Gray Eagles. Sources: The Aviationist, “Legendary U.S. Army Special Operations Force gets MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones”.
SOCOM’s 160th SOAR
Dec 13/13: Support. General Atomics Aeronautical in Poway, CA receives an $110.4 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for continuing MQ-1C support and spares services until Dec 15/14.
$8 million in FY 2014 operations and maintenance funds are committed immediately. Work will be performed in Afghanistan and Poway, CA. One bid was solicited with one received by the US Army Contracting Command (Aviation) in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-14-C-0008).
Oct 22/13: Engine. During AUSA 2013, General Atomics confirms to DID that the US Army will use its existing inventory of Thielert Centurion heavy fuel engines to keep the current Gray Eagle fleet running for now, rather than doing wholesale retrofits. One presumes that retrofits would follow if Centurion stocks or part inventories drop too low.
Oct 22/13: Testing. GA-ASI uses their own funds to conduct a 45-hour MQ-1C Improved Gray Eagle flight, in reconnaissance-only configuration. They also confirm that new Gray Eagle IGEs will be built with Lycoming’s 205hp DEL-120 heavy fuel engine, replacing the discontinued Thielert Centurion (q.v. July 26/13).
A 2nd demonstration, which is planned for later in 2013, will feature an MQ-1C IGE with a wing-mounted external payload and weapons. Source: GA-ASI, Oct 22/13 release.
Annual order; NERO jamming pods delivered; What now for the USA drone fleets?; The pilot issue; FRP decision.
Sept 26/13: Support. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA receives an $86.6 million cost-plus-incentive-fee modification to finalize FY 2013 Gray Eagle performance-based logistics product support. The contract covers both newer, armed Block 1s program and the initial few Block 0/ Quick Reaction Capability drones.
Work is performed from Poway, CA. The contract was solicited via the web with one bid received. The U.S. Army Contracting Command – Redstone Arsenal (Aviation), Redstone Arsenal, AL, is the contracting activity (W58RGZ-12-C-007, PO 0032).
Sept 24/13: Djibooted. The small but strategically critical African state of Djibouti has forced the US military to move its drones out of Camp Lemonnier, which serves as Africa Command’s main base. Their problem? Lemonnier’s runway is too close to the international airport, and 5 Predator drone crashes since 2011 have left the locals unwilling to continue done flights.
The Pentagon has moved its drone operations to a more remote base, and the Gray Eagle’s automatic landing equipment makes it rather less crash-prone than USAF Predators and Reapers. At the same time, it’s an issue that the Army’s fleet will also face. Operations over a war zone are one thing. ISR support operations to aid friendly countries that have national and international air traffic moving through their space are a totally different kettle of fish. Sources: Washington Post, “U.S. moves drone fleet from Camp Lemonnier to ease Djibouti’s safety concerns” | VOA, “US Military Relocates Drone Fleet From Djibouti Base”.
Sept 25/13: Support. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in Poway, CA receives a sole-source $70.2 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract to conduct MQ-1C Gray Eagle 4.3.2 software development and depot repair of related spares.
Work will be funded from FY 2012 and 2013 R&D funds. US Army Contracting Command – Aviation in Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (W58RGZ-13-C-0136).
Sept 25/13: STARLite radar. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in Linthicum Heights, MD receives an $85.3 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, multi-year, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quality contract to provide STARLite system support, including the SAR/GMTI features. Performance location and funding will be determined with each order. See the “Sensors and Add-Ons” section for full details re: the ZPY-1 STARLite.
This contract was a sole-source acquisition, but its duration isn’t clear. US Army Contracting Command – Aviation in Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (W15P7T-13-D-C118).
Sept 25/13: General Atomics announces that the Gray Eagle fleet has reached 20,000 successful launch and recoveries using their Automatic Takeoff and Landing System (ATLS). They hit the 10,000 milestone in June 2012.
ATLS has been deployed at 8 sites worldwide, including 3 overseas, with 4 additional sites planned by January 2015. Source: GA-ASI, Oct 23/13 release.
Sept 13/13: FY 2013. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA receives a sole-source $199.7 million firm-fixed-price contract to provide FY 2013 MQ-1C Gray Eagle production (19 UAVs), and “FY 2012 hardware backfill requirements.” General Atomics confirmed that the overall contract involves 19 UAVs, plus ground control equipment, automatic landing systems, SATCOM and data terminals, spares, and mobile maintenance facilities.
Work will be performed in Poway, CA. US Army Contracting Command, Aviation at Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (W58RGZ-13-C-0109).
Aug 25/13: Help Wanted. The USAF has a pilot recruitment problem for drones, driven by lower recognition and a true perception that promotions are less likely in that service. The US Army has an easier time of things, because they tap enlisted and non-commissioned soldiers to fly their UAVs: 15W Operator and 15E Repairer are enlisted soldiers positions, and 150U technician positions involve a warrant officer. Here’s the USAF’s math:
The USA has 61 round-the-clock UAV Combat Air Patrols, and plans to increase that to 65 by 2015. That increase is now suspect. If it’s maintained, the Pentagon’s April 2012 “Report to Congress on Future Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training, Operations, and Sustainability” says the USAF will require, at minimum, 579 more MQ-1/9 UAV pilots from December 2011 – 2015. In 2012, the 40 USAF training slots attracted just 12 volunteers, and training attrition rates are 3x higher than they are for regular pilots. Unlike the USAF’s manned aircraft training slots, only 33 RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) training slots were filled (around 82%), triggered in part by the correct perception that those who succeed will have less successful careers. Based on present rates, 13% fewer RPA pilots have become majors, compared to their peers.
Army schadenfreude aside, the Pentagon’s April 2012 report did say that the Army needed to add 820 more MQ-1C Gray Eagle positions between December 2011 – 2015. They can’t neglect this area, either. Sources: Stars & Stripes, “Unmanned now undermanned: Air Force struggles to fill pilot slots for drones” | See Additional Readings section for full Pentagon report.
Aug 22/13: Training. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA receives a maximum $30.5 million cost-plus-incentive fee, option eligible, multi-year contract for 1 MQ-1C Gray Eagle Composite Maintenance System Trainer (CMST) suite of equipment, plus Interim Contractor Support at Fort Huachuca, AZ. US Army Contracting Command Aviation at? Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (W58RGZ-13-C-0127).
Aug 16/13: Support. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in Poway, CA receives an $11.4 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, option-eligible, non-multi-year, contract modification.
The award exercises an option for additional MQ-1C engineering services, and the announcement’s confusing language is “$11,423,474.37 with a cumulative maximum value of $156,370,264”. We’ve added all awards under this contract, and so far, announced awards total $81.9 million. But General Atomics clarifies that (since Sept 2009) “we have received contracts that value $156.4 million for Gray Eagle engineering services, including the $11.4 million contract that was just announced.”
Work will be performed in Poway, CA, using FY 2013 “other funding.” One bid was solicited, and 1 receives by US Army Contracting Command (Aviation) in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-09-C-0136, PO 0094).
July 26/13: MQ-1 IGE. A successful first flight of the Improved Gray Eagle (IGE) derivative of the MQ-1C Block 1, at GS-ASI’s Adelanto, CA facility.
IGE is designed for increased endurance, thanks to its “improved Heavy Fuel Engine” and deep belly fuselage with over 50% more capacity. In the field, that translates into up to 23 more hours aloft on reconnaissance missions. Overall payload capacity also improves by 50%, with an upgraded centerline wet hardpoint that can mount a 500 pound external fuel tank or a 360 degree sensor payload. General Atomics also cites the “potential of incorporating lightning protection, damage tolerance, and Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) features.” Source: General Atomics, July 26/13 release.
Improved Gray Eagle introduced, flies
July 23/13: Engine out. State-owned Aviation Industry Corp. of China buys Thielert’s commercial assets out of insolvency, and folding them into its Continental Motors division. In order to get approval for the sale from the German government, however, the firm has to divest its military business. They elect to close it, leaving the MQ-1C Gray Eagle and Turkey’s Anka UAV without an engine. Sources: Bloomberg, “AVIC Buys Thielert to Shift Company to Planes From Drones” | Reuters, “China’s AVIC to buy German aircraft engine maker Thielert”.
Thielert to China
June 14/13: FRP. The Defense Acquisition Board approved Gray Eagle for Full Rate Production (FRP), which will lead to the purchase of an additional 49 aircraft over FY13-15. Because of the current budget constraints, the FY13 buy was reduced from 19 to 15. FY14 is planned for an additional 19, with a final 15 units in FY15.
Deputy Program Manager Jeff Crabb tells DID that the program was also moved from the ACAT 1D down to the ACAT 1C level, meaning the Army is now the Milestone Decision Authority (MDA), as opposed to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. This makes sense since close to 70 aircraft have already been delivered after 3 LRIP lots, out of a planned total of 152. Of these, 4 have been lost in combat so far.
The program’s next milestone is Follow-on Operational Test & Evaluation (FOT&E) in early 2015, mostly around the universal ground control station (GCS) which involves both hardware and software components.
May 14/13: NERO EW pod. Raytheon announces that they’ve delivered the first 2 Networked Electronic Warfare, Remotely Operated (NERO) pods, as part of a contract awarded by US NAVSEA-Crane in 2012 for use on the US Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle.
NERO is an airborne electronic attack system capable of jamming enemy communications systems, including remote detonators for land mines. It’s derived from the Army’s Communications Electronic Attack with Surveillance and Reconnaissance (CEASAR) program, which is mounted on MC-12W King Air manned turboprops. Moving to the Gray Eagle doubles or triples flight time, at a similar or lower operating cost. Raytheon.
May 7/13: Support. GA-ASI in Poway, CA receives a $110.3 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification for MQ-1C support and fleet sustainment, driving the contract’s total cumulative face value to $354.7 million.
Work will be performed in Afghanistan, using FY 2013 Operations and Maintenance funds, and other Procurement fund. The US Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (W58RGZ-12-C-0075, PO 0032).
April 10/13: FY 2014 Budget. The President releases a proposed budget at last, the latest in modern memory. The Senate and House were already working on budgets in his absence, but the Pentagon’s submission is actually important to proceedings going forward. See ongoing DID coverage. For the Gray Eagle, the budget requests $627.1 million, of which just $10.9 million is RDT&E. That’s a cut of about $151.8 million from previous plans, and when combined with 2015 plans it cuts the program by $337.8 million. They’re still ordering the same number of UAVs, though.
The FY 2014 request covers continued development of the Universal Ground Control Station, a Ground Based Sense-and-Avoid system for flights at several US based locations (vid Aug 10/12 entry), 15 UAVs, 8 AN/ZPY-1 STARLite ER radars, 8 AN/AAS-53 Common Sensor Payload surveillance & targeting turrets, 16 Tactical SIGINT (TSP for signals interceptions) payloads, and 3 modular platoon sets of equipment.
April 2/13: What now? Defense News aptly summarizes the key question facing the USA’s large drones:
“On the one hand, the work in Mali shows that the signature weapon of the U.S. war in Afghanistan is outlasting that conflict. On the other, the detachment is a tiny fraction of the Predator/Reaper fleet – and just where are the rest of them going to go?”
With flights below 60,000 feet heavily restricted within the USA, there aren’t that many options stateside, and most of the MQ-9 fleet’s $8,000 per flight hour operations are funded by wartime OCO appropriations. AFRICOM may have the best combination of circumstances abroad, thanks to growing trouble in the Gulf of Guinea to the West, as well as the Indian Ocean to the East. Even a massive increase in surveillance can’t absorb all of the UAVs, and the $6,000 per flight hour manned MC-12s are a natural competitor.
Attack helicopter control MQ-1C in flight; Operational Testing & Evaluation; Approval sought to extend LRIP buys; Predator GCS virus won’t affect Army; SIGINT pod.
Unless otherwise specified, the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL issues the contracts to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) in Poway, CA.
Oct 2/12: Support. A $102.6 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for services to support the Gray Eagle UAS.
Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of May 7/13. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W58RGZ-12-C-0075).
Oct 2/12: Engine retrofits. A $10.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification to retrofit MQ-1C Block 0 UAVs with an alternate heavy fuel engine.
Work will be performed in Poway, CA with an estimated completion date of Sept 26/13. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W58RGZ-12-C-0001).
Aug 27/12: A $25.9 million fixed-price-incentive contract modification will add “a platoon set of ground equipment.” Note that for these UAVs, a “platoon” is 12 MQ-1Cs.
Work will be performed in Poway, CA with an estimated completion date of June 30/15. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W58RGZ-12-C-0057).
Aug 27/12: An $11 million fixed-price-incentive contract modification, to buy more universal ground data terminals. Work will be performed in Poway, CA with an estimated completion date of April 30/14. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W58RGZ-11-C-0099).
Aug 10/12: Civil airspace. The U.S. Army has validated the design and functionality of a Phase 2 ground-based sense and avoid (GBSAA, see above) radar system that will support training flights of MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs in unrestricted airspace, beginning in 2014.
The baseline GBSAA system was demonstrated in June 2012 at Dugway Proving Ground’s unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) testbed, and the Army’s UAS Rapid Integration and Acceptance Center. The 2-week demonstration covered several “vignettes” involving live RQ-7 Shadow and RQ-5 Hunter UAVs as well as simulated UAVs and intruder aircraft. The testing also replicated the airspace over other military installations and used live and recorded air traffic data from Salt Lake City, UT and Boston’s Logan airports. AIN Online.
July 18/12: A $19 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for MQ-1C contractor logistics support. Work will be performed in Poway, CA with an estimated completion date of July 15/13. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received (W58RGZ-11-C-0001).
July 11/12: A $411 million fixed-price-incentive contract for Gray Eagle systems, initial spares, and additional hardware. Work will be performed in Poway, CA with an estimated completion date of March 31/15. The bid was solicited through the Internet, with one bid received (W58RGZ-12-C-0057).
Looks like they got that authorization to continue Low-Rate initial Production.
July 2/12: Support. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA receives an $8.6 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for MQ-1C Gray Eagle engineering support.
Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of Sept. 30/13. One bid was solicited, with one bid received. The U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (W58RGZ-09-C-0136).
June 27/12: Reliability & report. The US Army has some good news, and some bad news.
The bad news is that Gray Eagles are flying at about 80% availability rates after 24,000 combat flight hours, instead of their target 90%. The problems are mostly traceable to software issues that arise when new sensors are added.
The good news? The program is under budget. The UAVs have added weapons, ground-looking radars, and communication relays to their payload. The Army likes them a lot, and thinks they’re making a big difference, so they’ve decided to focus on expanding Gray Eagle capabilities for now, rather than trying to reach 90% availability rates. Right now, there are a pair of platoon-size 4-UAV QRC units in Afghanistan, and the “Fox 227” full-size company of 12.
May 29/12: IOT&E funds. An $8.5 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification supplies incremental funding to support MQ-1C operational test and evaluation. The program’s IOT&E was moved back from October 2011, and is now expected in August 2012 (a milestone that was indeed met at that date).
Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of Nov 30/12. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W58RGZ-05-C-0069).
May 10/12: A $141.8 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract, for services in support of the MQ-1C Gray Eagle. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of May 7/13. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received (W58RGZ-12-C-0075).
April 4/12: Plans. The US Army discusses its plans for the MQ-1C, which includes the addition of a new Synthetic Aperture Radar with Ground Moving Target Indicator, and the development of a Universal Ground Control Station, or UGS that can show video feeds from Gray Eagle, Shadow and Hunter UAS on a single system.
A full company of 12 Gray Eagle UAS have now deployed as part of a full-spectrum Combat Aviation Brigade, and a Pentagon Defense Acquisition Board meeting is planned for mid-May 2012, to approve another Low Rate Initial Production buy. Initial Operational Test & Evaluation is scheduled for summer 2012.
March 30/12: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs” for 2012. With respect to the MQ-1C, it mentions that the Army will be modifying the UAV’s tail rudder and elevator, and the GAO is now satisfied with the automatic take-off and landing system’s technical maturity:
“However, the tactical common data link is still not fully mature… its air data relay capability has been deferred until fiscal year 2012. The March 2011 accident involving an MQ-1C in testing has delayed several key program events… The Army now plans to start [IOT&E] operational testing in August 2012 [instead of October 2011, and a]… full-rate production decision was postponed from August 2012 to March 2013. The Army has already awarded two low-rate production contracts in 2010 and 2011 for 55 aircraft. To avoid a break in production, the Army is planning to seek approval to award a third low-rate contract for 29 aircraft in May 2012. Based on the current program schedule, the Army will procure more than half of the total planned aircraft before the system’s operational effectiveness and suitability is fully tested…”
Jan 26/12: Preliminary FY 2013 budget materials discuss coming shifts in Pentagon priorities, as the defense department moves to make future cuts. The USAF will get fewer MQ-9 Reapers, but the Army’s MQ-1C is protected:
“Unmanned Air Systems – fund enough trained personnel, infrastructure, and platforms to sustain 65 USAF MQ-1/9 combat air patrols (CAPs) with a surge capacity of 85; the Predator aircraft was retained longer than previously planned, allowing us to slow the buy of the Reaper aircraft and gain some savings; we also protected funding for the Army’s unmanned air system, Gray Eagle.”
See: Pentagon release | “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices” [PDF]
Jan 17/12: A $30.3 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification to support the MQ-1C Gray Eagle Quick Reaction Capability drones in theater. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of May 7/12. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W58RGZ-09-C-0153).
Jan 5/12: SIGINT Pods. BAE Systems in Nashua, NH receives a $12.3 million firm-fixed-price and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for T-Pod SIGINT Systems. on the MQ-1C Unmanned Aircraft System. A December 2011 expression of interest stated that the US Army was looking for up to 5 tested and calibrated Traveler Pods within 4 months for integration work on the MQ-1C, and within 6 months for deployment. The pods are designed to find and eavesdrop on electronic emitters, identify them (enemy radio communications? radar? etc.), then offer aerial precision geolocation (APG) and copying. Pods and equipment can already be installed in larger UAVs like the USAF’s RQ-4 Global Hawks, and aboard light surveillance planes like the Beechcraft King Air MC-12Ws. The challenge is to shrink them and their supporting systems so that it falls within the MQ-1C’s weight and size limits.
Work will be performed in Nashua, NH, with an estimated completion date of Dec 27/12. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received by US Army Contracting Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD (W15P7T-12-C-C009). See also FBO.gov.
Jan 5/12: A $20.5 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification to pay for operational test and evaluation. It does not specify further, but the contract is the MQ-1C’s.
Dec 30/11: A $12 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for Warrior A/Block 0 support services. These are the Quick Reaction Capability drones. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, until Dec 17/13. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W58RGZ-12-C-0001).
Dec 23/11: An $18 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract. “The award will provide for the modification of an existing contract to allow for incremental funding of previous change order”; it does not specify further, but the contract is the MQ-1C’s. Work will be performed in Poway, CA; Hunt Valley, MD; Salt Lake City, UT; and Lake Forest, CA, with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/11. One bid was solicited, with 1 received (W58RGZ-05-C-0069).
Nov 10/11: A $15.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee and cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification, to support the MQ-1C QRC contingents. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of Jan 7/12. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W58RGZ-09-C-0153).
Nov 9/11: An AH-64D Apache Block III attack helicopter fitted with the Unmanned Aerial Systems Tactical Common Data Link Assembly (UTA) atop its mast has controlled the payload and flight of an MQ-1C Grey Eagle UAV, while both are in flight. This marks the 1st time an unmanned vehicle has been controlled from the cockpit of an Apache helicopter.
Lockheed Martin says that the test program proved the UTA’s design, adding that: “All goals of this phase of UTA testing were completed with 100 percent success.”
Oct 17/11: A $30.3 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for additional MQ-1C engineering services. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of Aug 30/12. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received (W58RGZ-09-C-0136).
Oct 7/11: Hacked. WIRED Danger Room reports that a “keylogger” virus has infected the USAF’s MQ-1A/B Predator and MQ-9 Reaper fleets:
“The virus, first detected nearly two weeks ago by the military’s Host-Based Security System, has not prevented pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada from flying their missions overseas. Nor have there been any confirmed incidents of classified information being lost or sent to an outside source. But the virus has resisted multiple efforts to remove it from Creech’s computers, network security specialists say… “We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back,” says a source familiar with the network infection, one of three that told Danger Room about the virus. “We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know.”
Unlike the USAF, the Army’s philosophy is to operate its MQ-1C Gray Eagles in-theater. The virus doesn’t compromise Army UAVs, therefore, but it may indicate a similar vulnerability point in the Army’s network.
Oct 5/11: Support. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA receives an $84.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract. The award will provide for the logistics and hardware services in support of Gray Eagle First Unit Equipped system hardware.
Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of March 27/13. One bid was solicited, with one bid received. The U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (W58RGZ-11-C-0143).
Oct 5/11: An $8.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract will fund RESET efforts for the Warrior A/Warrior Block 0 Unmanned Aircraft Systems. RESET is a program for worn vehicles and aircraft, involving tear-down and comprehensive inspections, followed by replacement of any worn parts, and restoration to “like new” condition. The question is whether these initially-fielded “Quick Reaction Capability” UAVs will be upgraded to full operational MQ-1C Block 1 status, complete with weapons.
Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of June 30/13. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received (W58RGZ-11-C-0001).
MQ-1C program ramp-up; USAF accepts last MQ-1B Predator; TRACER foliage-penetrating radar; Iraq quick reaction deployment discussed.
May 20/11: An $8.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, cost-plus-incentive-fee contract, that buys additional spare hardware under the MQ-1C Gray Eagle’s logistics support contract. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of Jan 18/12. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received (W58RGZ-09-C-0153).
May 10/11: Support. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA receives an $9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract May 6/11. The award will provide for MQ-1C Universal Ground Control Station integration.
Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of June 30/11. One bid was solicited, with one bid received. The U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (W58RGZ-09-C-0136).
April 25/11: An $8.3 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract, providing incremental funding to cover an extension of the ER/MP system development and design contract. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/11. One bid was solicited with 1 bid received by U.S. Army AMCOM Contracting Center in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-05-C-0069).
April 12/11: +26. $173.5 million of a $354 million fixed-price-incentive-fee contract, for MQ-1C Gray Eagle low rate initial production. Queries to GA-ASI indicate that the contract covers 2 Gray Eagle systems: 26 UAVs (12 aircraft per system, plus 2 spares for losses), 15 of AAI’s OneSystem Ground Control Systems, L-3 Communications’ Satellite Communications equipment, and other peripheral equipment to support the systems.
GA-ASI says that part of this contract is for FY 2010 buys, and part is FY 2011. Work will be performed at Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of April 30/14. One bid was solicited and one received (W58RGZ-11-C-0099).
March 7/11: A $64.3 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification for MQ-1C Gray Eagle product support, logistical support and sustainment operations.
Work will be performed in Poway, CA; Adelanto, CA; Palmdale, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; and Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of Nov 7/11. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W58RGZ-09-C-0153).
March 3/11: The USAF accepts delivery of its 268th and last Predator UAV, an MQ-1B, at General Atomics’ Gray Butte Aeronautical Systems’ Flight Ops Facility. The delivery leaves the US Army as the only customer for MQ-1 Predator UAVs, unless the RQ-1 Predator XP variant finds some export customers.
Col. James Beissner, Air Combat Command’s Chief Irregular Warfare Division, accepted the aircraft. Aeronautical Systems Center’s Chief of Medium Altitude UAS Division, Col. Christopher Coombs, cites fleet totals of over 900,000 hours since its 1st flight in July 1994, with mission capable rates over 90%. What he does not mention is a high accident rate, which accompanies UAVs without auto-takeoff and landing capabilities. The Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle does not suffer from the same officer pilot bias as the USAF, and has adopted these technologies. Wright Patterson AFB | General Atomics.
March 2/11: +30. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA receives an announced $335.5 million fixed-price-incentive-fee contract for MQ-1C Gray Eagle systems. In-depth discussions with General Atomics place the order in its full context, which is somewhat complex.
In February 2010, General Atomics says the US Army placed a not-to-exceed $399 million contract, but did not appropriate any money. Their first step was the $195.5 million 49% funding contract in the May 19/10 entry. According to the firm, this award funds the remaining contract with another $115.1 million, to make a total of $310.6 million. This will include the LRIP Lot 1 order for 2 systems (24 UAVs + 2 attrition), plus the FY 2009 supplemental funding of 8 UAVs, and a sizable quantity of plus-up air, ground and communication equipment.
Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/12. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W56RGZ-10-C-0068).
Feb 14/11: Budget request. The Pentagon releases its FY 2012 budget request, which includes breakout information concerning the MQ-1C Gray Eagle program. The FY 2012 request is $805.8 million for 36 systems, which includes $137 million in RDT&E(Research, Development, Testing & Evaluation) funds.
Jan 18/11: Program ramp-up. A US Army release quotes Tim Owings, deputy project manager for Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems:
“We’re going to accelerate Gray Eagle yet again. We’re accelerating from two systems per year to three systems per year, which will result in seventeen systems being procured by FY 2014… Defense Acquisition Board in February of this year is expected to confirm the addition of two more Low Rate Initial Production Gray Eagle systems – each consisting of 12 air vehicles, five ground control stations and five additional attrition vehicles… The Army has already deployed two Gray Eagle “Quick Reaction Capabilities.” One QRC is now flying with Army Soldiers in Iraq and another is with U.S. Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan”
Nov 28/10: Iraq T&P work. A posting from the 1st Infantry Division discusses [Pentagon DVIDS | US Army] some of the work that goes into the Gray Eagle’s Quick Reaction Capability 1-Replacement 1 (QRC-1/R1) deployment in Iraq, which is working to pioneer Gray Eagle tactics, techniques and procedures before the UAVs are deployed throughout the Army. Some excerpts:
“The QRC1-R1 operators are working with aviators from the brigade’s Apache battalion to integrate their mission… The unit has flown nearly 7,000 accident free hours, more than 350 combat missions, produced over 16,000 surveillance-type images, and maintained a systems operational readiness rate of about 93 percent [in its first 6 months]. “…One of the biggest things we try to do is educate other units about our capabilities,” said [unit commander Capt. Michael] Goodwin. “A lot of units have the ability to use our assets, but they don’t know what we can do.” One of the most useful tools the unit offers ground troops is education on a portable system known as the OSRVT, or One Station Remote Viewing Terminal. “We’re finding that a lot of units have the OSRVT, but don’t know what it does for them,” said Goodwin. “Our company helps train the ground guys on the system, on how to access our feeds and use our aircraft to support them.” …The unit is working to prepare the aircraft to carry hellfire missiles, and is scheduled to conduct a live test of the missiles in Iraq this January. Sgt. Brent Randal, a Gray Eagle operator deployed with QRC1-R1 and a native of Las Vegas, Nev., said that one of the aircraft’s best features is its new Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR. Mounted underneath the Gray Eagle’s nose, the SAR can compare high resolution images of a location taken at different times to determine whether objects have been removed from or placed at a scene… The Gray Eagle can also help ground troops communicate with their headquarters over long distances. The success of [Predator drones he flew for Task Force ODIN] helped pave the way for the Army’s acquisition of the Gray Eagle, said [former scout Staff Sgt. Raymond] Ballance.”
“The QRC1-R1 operators are working with aviators from the brigade’s Apache battalion to integrate their mission… The unit has flown nearly 7,000 accident free hours, more than 350 combat missions, produced over 16,000 surveillance-type images, and maintained a systems operational readiness rate of about 93 percent [in its first 6 months].
“…One of the biggest things we try to do is educate other units about our capabilities,” said [unit commander Capt. Michael] Goodwin. “A lot of units have the ability to use our assets, but they don’t know what we can do.” One of the most useful tools the unit offers ground troops is education on a portable system known as the OSRVT, or One Station Remote Viewing Terminal. “We’re finding that a lot of units have the OSRVT, but don’t know what it does for them,” said Goodwin. “Our company helps train the ground guys on the system, on how to access our feeds and use our aircraft to support them.” …The unit is working to prepare the aircraft to carry hellfire missiles, and is scheduled to conduct a live test of the missiles in Iraq this January.
Sgt. Brent Randal, a Gray Eagle operator deployed with QRC1-R1 and a native of Las Vegas, Nev., said that one of the aircraft’s best features is its new Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR. Mounted underneath the Gray Eagle’s nose, the SAR can compare high resolution images of a location taken at different times to determine whether objects have been removed from or placed at a scene… The Gray Eagle can also help ground troops communicate with their headquarters over long distances. The success of [Predator drones he flew for Task Force ODIN] helped pave the way for the Army’s acquisition of the Gray Eagle, said [former scout Staff Sgt. Raymond] Ballance.”
Nov 19/10: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA receives a $31.9 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract, providing incremental funding to cover an extension of the ER/MP system development and design contract. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/10. One bid was solicited with one bid received by U.S. Army AMCOM Contracting Center in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-05-C-0069).
Announced System Development & Demonstration contracts covered here, not including any UAV buys or any support contracts, now stand at $253.4 million.
Nov 8/10: STARLite radar. Northrop Grumman announces a contract for 40 more AN/ZPY-1 STARLite synthetic aperture ground-looking radars, bringing announced orders to 73. These lightweight radars include Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) capabilities, and will equip the Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs,. Under the terms of the contract option, deliveries to the Army’s Product Manager Robotic & Unmanned Sensors Program Management Office will begin in March, 2011 and conclude in March, 2012.
Pat Newby, vice president of Weapons and Sensors for Northrop Grumman’s Land and Self Protection Systems Division. “STARLite completed all first article and government testing requirements, which led to this award. These systems are ready now for immediate deployment.” See Feb 11/10, Apr 28/08 entries for more.
Oct 27/10: TRACER radar. Lockheed Martin’s tree-penetrating Tactical Reconnaissance and Counter-Concealment-Enabled Radar (TRACER) flies for the 1st time aboard NASA’s Ikhana MQ-9, because the Army Gray Eagle MQ-1C fleet that will eventually host the external unpressurized TRACER pods are all busy on operations.
TRACER is a dual-band synthetic-aperture radar (SAR), designed to detect vehicles, buildings and other man-made objects that are buried, camouflaged or concealed under trees and other foliage. The flight tests on Ikhana focused on the radar’s performance in the harsh environment of the unpressurized pod, as the TRACER system will eventually be installed on a variety of manned and unmanned aircraft. Lockheed Martin.
ER/MP becomes “Gray Eagle”; Army hits 1 million total UAV hours; USAF bows out of Predator buys, ending UAV War; MQ-1C arming approved; Hellfire missile tests; 1st STARLite radars delivered.
In 2010, the Army officially changed the planned number of production MQ-1C Gray Eagle Block I+ systems from 13 company-sized units of 12 aircraft, to 31 independent “UAS Platoons” with 4 MQ-1Cs each, plus Standard Equipment Package (SEP), and Ground Equipment. The main production program would also buy 21 UAVs to replace those lost, and 7 training UAVs, for a total of 152.
Oct 4/10: Support. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in Poway, CA receives a $5.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for ER/MP engineering and integration support, integrated logistics support, and program management. It was actually issued at the end of FY 2009.
Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of Sept 30/11. One bid was solicited with 1 bid received by the US Army at Redstone Arsenal (W58RGZ-09-C-0136, PO 0018).
Sept 10/10: A $7.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for ER/MP Quick Reaction Capability contractor logistics support replenishment sustainment spares. Work is to be performed in Poway, CA with an estimated completion date of June 6/12. One bid was solicited with 1 bid received (W58RGZ-09-C-0153).
Aug 24/10: The ER/MP’s new name is confirmed during a US Army UAS panel discussion at AUVSI Unmanned Systems North America. US Army UAS US Army Project Manager Col. Gregory Gonzalez says that using both ER/MP and SkyWarrior had created name recognition issues, and the USAF had approved the name. US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Capabilities Manager Col. Robert Sova adds:
“That’s ‘Grey Eagle’ as ‘G-R-E-Y’… The naming nomenclature, of course, is usually after an Indian chief or Indian tribe and I would suggest that you look up ‘Grey Eagle,’ because there is a good history of that particular Indian chief and his lineage with the army and special operations. So it is not only a cool’ name, it has substance and meaning behind it.”
We’re not the only ones scratching our heads about this reference, which is probably a mistake that stems from believing too many things on the Internet. Though we do like Shephard Group | this Chief Gray Eagle.
May 24/10: A $38.5 million cost-plus-incentive-fee/cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification that pays for new contractor logistics support; a transition to performance-based logistics for the Quick Reaction Capability 1 (see December 2009 entry), QRC-1R, and QRC-2 UAVs; and a UAS training base in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
Work is to be performed in Adelanto, CA (34%); Hunt Valley, MD (24%); Poway, CA (18%); Palmdale, CA (17%); and Salt Lake City, UT (7%). The estimated completion date is May 19/11. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W58RGZ-09-C-0153, #P00011).
May 19/10: +26. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA received a $195.5 million fixed-price-incentive-fee contract for MQ-1C supplemental hardware and low-rate initial production. Work is to be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of Nov 30/12. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W58RGZ-10-C-0068).
General Atomics tells us that this is for the first half (49%) of the LRIP Lot 1 contract, and covers 2 full Sky Warrior systems (24 UAVs) and FY 2009 supplemental hardware (2 attrition UAVs). The rest of the funding is expected in a few months, and could drive this contract set to about $399 million for 34 Sky Warrior aircraft, 16 of AAI’s One System Ground Control Stations, L-3 Communications West’s airborne and ground Tactical Control Data Link (TCDL) equipment, and various other items to include automatic landing systems, spares, and ground support equipment. Beginning in December 2011, the company is scheduled to deliver over 2 MQ-1C aircraft a month through the end of 2012.
This award comes at the same time that the U.S. Army is celebrating the achievement of 1,000,000 flight hours for its entire unmanned aircraft systems fleet, of which GA-ASI Sky Warrior Alpha and Sky Warrior UAS have logged 145,000 flight hours. See also July 8/10 release.
May 7/10: Lynx radar. General Atomics announces that its Lynx Block 30 Synthetic Aperture Radar with Ground Moving Target Indicator (SAR/GMTI) has achieved over 1,000 collective mission hours on their 4 Sky Warrior Block 1 UAVs in Iraq. The radar has a broad area GMTI scanning mode for detecting moving vehicles in front and to either side, can cue the camera payload to things it “sees” by using the CLAW payload control software, and features very fast Coherent Change Detection (CCD) algorithms.
The US Army’s Quick Reaction Capability-1 (QRC-1) deployment began in December 2009. A second group of 4 Lynx Block 30 radars is scheduled to begin Limited User Testing with the Army later in May 2010, in support of this summer’s planned QRC-2 deployment. In addition to supporting QRC-1 operations with the Lynx radar, GA-ASI is providing full Contractor Logistics Support (CLS), including radar operation, image analysis, and maintenance support.
May 7/10: A $5.8 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for continued performance of the ER/MP’s SDD phase. Work is to be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/10. One bid was solicited with one bid received by U.S. Army Contracting Command, AMCOM Constructing Center at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-05-C-0069).
May 6/10: A $15.2 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract, exercising an option in support of the ER/MP production readiness test asset. Work is to be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of April 09/11. One bid was solicited with one bid received by U.S. Army Contracting Command, AMCOM Constructing Center at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-09-C-0151). Asked about this contract, General Atomics spokespeople said that:
“…this is not the other half of the [April 22/10] PRTA contract, this is an additional amount for spares and ground support equipment.”
On other topics, they add that the ER/MP’s name change from General Atomics’ Sky Warrior designation to the US Army’s Gray Eagle designation is not official – yet.
April 29/10: 1,000,000 UAV hours. The US Army announces that April 2010 saw the 1,000,000th flight hour for its UAV fleets. That’s a dramatic change from the handful of Army RQ-7 Shadow and RQ-5 Hunter systems in 2001, to roughly 1,000 UAVs by 2010 that are logging up to 25,000 of UAV flight hours per month. It has taken 13 years to put together the first 100,000 hours, followed by 8.5 years to add the next 900,000. About 88% of these flight hours are from time in combat.
The Army now operates 6 MQ-5 Hunter systems that have recently been armed, 87 RQ-7 Shadow UAS systems that are likely to become armed MQ-7 variants son, 9 MQ-1C ER/MP variants, 1,300 Raven mini-UAV systems and 16 RQ-18 gMAV systems. Each system includes several UAVs, plus launch platforms if needed and associated ground control station and communications equipment. Tim Owings, deputy program manager, Army UAS:
“Ninety-five percent of what the Army has in its inventory today did not even exist at the beginning of the war… A lot of people liken Vietnam to a helicopter war – I liken these two wars as the unmanned systems wars because these are the wars where these systems hit the central axis of the way we fight and became part and parcel to the way the Army prosecutes wars… It has been absolutely amazing, no matter how many we have built there has always been a need for more.”??
A Quick Reaction Capability (QRC) of 4 unarmed MQ-1C Block 0s were deployed to Iraq in 2009 – and another ERMP QRC is slated for Afghanistan later in 2010, armed with Hellfire missiles. The idea of the QRC is to field technologies in service of the ongoing war effort as they are available while simultaneously developing a system as a program of record.
April 22/10: +4. A $17 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract to finalize a contract for ER/MP production readiness test assets. Work is to be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of Sept 30/11. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W58RGZ-09-C-0151). In response to a query, General Atomics tells DID that the contract includes:
“…4 Sky Warrior ER/MP aircraft, 2 ER/MP One System GCS, TCDL/GDT, SGDT, TALS, etc.). The [equipment is] to be used for the Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E) phase that follows SDD.”
The other $23.4 million part of this contract, plus the May 6/10 contract, leaves the final price at $55.6 million for systems and support.
March 30/10: GAO report. The US GAO audit office delivers its 8th annual “Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs report. With respect to the ER/MP:
“…a Secretary of Defense memorandum to field the capability as soon as possible… affected the program in several ways. According to program officials, it extended system development and demonstration by about 2 years and delayed the award of the low-rate initial production contract by over 1 year. In accordance with the Secretary’s direction, the Army fielded one “Quick Reaction Capability” system in 2009 and plans to field another in 2010. These systems lack the full capabilities planned.” “…All four critical technologies are now mature and have been demonstrated on the final version of the unmanned air system… The ER/MP is expected to enter low-rate initial production in early 2010 with all its manufacturing processes demonstrated in a production representative environment… the program was approved in February 2010 for low-rate initial production, and they now anticipate changes in cost, quantity, and schedule. However, official, detailed information was not available in time for inclusion in this report… the Air Force has determined it will no longer acquire the MQ-1C Predator. The Army now anticipates a DOD acquisition memorandum closing the [DoD’s earlier] direction to combine the programs.”
“…a Secretary of Defense memorandum to field the capability as soon as possible… affected the program in several ways. According to program officials, it extended system development and demonstration by about 2 years and delayed the award of the low-rate initial production contract by over 1 year. In accordance with the Secretary’s direction, the Army fielded one “Quick Reaction Capability” system in 2009 and plans to field another in 2010. These systems lack the full capabilities planned.”
“…All four critical technologies are now mature and have been demonstrated on the final version of the unmanned air system… The ER/MP is expected to enter low-rate initial production in early 2010 with all its manufacturing processes demonstrated in a production representative environment… the program was approved in February 2010 for low-rate initial production, and they now anticipate changes in cost, quantity, and schedule. However, official, detailed information was not available in time for inclusion in this report… the Air Force has determined it will no longer acquire the MQ-1C Predator. The Army now anticipates a DOD acquisition memorandum closing the [DoD’s earlier] direction to combine the programs.”
Feb 19/10: General Atomics Aeronautical System in Poway, CA receives a $36.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract, covering in-theater support for ERMP Alpha and Block 0 UAVs for the Iraqi and Afghan theaters of war. The contract will run until Nov 15/11. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W58RGZ-10-C-0044).
Feb 18/10: Tests, and Milestone C. The US Army announces that the ER/MP has successfully completed a series of tests with the HELLFIRE II UAS missile variant, whose 360-degree targeting ability, allowing UAVs that lack a helicopter’s instant maneuverability to put missiles on target faster. Testing began on Nov 22/09, and took place at Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, CA, following cooperation from General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems, Inc.’s Software Integration Laboratory, the company’s El Mirage Flight Test Facility in El Mirage, CA, and Edwards Air Force Base, CA..
The tests began with dry runs and an inert test missile, followed by a successful “cold” pass using a live missile to verify lock-on, followed by “hot pass” firing. November and December involved testing in various conditions, from varying altitudes, against stationary or moving targets. Tests recorded 9 successful shots, which helped pave the way for the UAV’s February 2010 Milestone C approval.
Feb 13/10: The US military issues a FedBizOpps notice as it conducts market research seeking sources to provide in-theatre logistical support, to include field service representatives and maintainers to support sustainment of the AN/DAS-2 payload and the AN/AAS-53 sensor and target designation turrets. The usual winner in these cases is the contractor, especially when, as in this case, “The government does not own the technical data package for these payloads.”
The AN/DAS-2 equipped initial SkyWarriors. The day/night sensing and targeting turret contains a continuous zoom day camera, a thermal imager, a visible imager, a laser designator, and an eye-safe laser rangefinder, all packaged within a stabilized gimbal. The AN/AAS-53 “is planned to replace the AN/DAS-2 beginning in fourth quarter 2009.” FBO solicitation.
Feb 11/10: STARLite, express. Northrop Grumman announces the recent delivery of the first 2 production AN/ZPY-1 STARLite radars for the US Army’s ER/MP, under a compressed 18-month schedule. The STARLite radar is a 65 pound synthetic aperture radar (SAR) with ground moving target indicator (GMTI) capabilities. In SAR mode, the radar provides images along the aircraft’s flight path or along a path independent of the flight path. It can also provide a high-resolution image of a specific area on the ground. In the GMTI mode, the radar provides moving target locations overlaid on a digital map. It can see through battlefield obscurants at all times of day, and in all weather. It also has software that connects with the Army One Common Ground Station.
Northrop Grumman is working under a $78.5 million contract with the Army’s Robotics and Unmanned Sensors Product Office at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD, to provide a total of 33 STARLite radar systems by April 2011.
Feb 2/10: Milestone C. The Army’s ER/MP passes its Milestone C review, following success during the UAV’s Operational Assessment test phase, and a positive verdict regarding production readiness. The decision allows Low Rate Initial Production to begin. Tim Owings, the US Army Deputy Project Manager for Army UAS, states that Milestone C authorizes 2 complete systems of 24 total UAVs plus ground control and related equipment, plus 8 UAVs for training and war-loss replacement. US Army.
Feb 1/10: The Pentagon releases its FY 2011 budget requests. For the ER/MP program, Research, Development, Testing & Evaluation would jump 45% to $123.2 million. Purchases would jump about 5% to $506.3 million for 29 UAVs, including 3 UAVs under OCO/war funding purchases.
Dec 11/09: Arming begins. Aviation Week reports that the Army is beginning to arm its MQ-1Cs as its pushes toward a “Milestone C” production decision. Tests at China Lake, CA began with 2 Hellfire shots in late November, and will continue until Dec 18/09.
“The soon to be re-designated Gray Eagle UAV, currently called the extended range/multi-purpose (ERMP) unmanned aircraft system by the Army, is being rushed into service with newly-formed quick reaction capability (QRC) units in Iraq and Afghanistan… the initial QRC-1 unit is now deployed in Iraq with four unarmed aircraft… The current weapons tests… form part of preparations to arm QRC-2 aircraft which will be deployed to Afghanistan in July .”
Army UAS project manager Col. Gregory Gonzalez confirmed to Aviation Week that QRC-2 will have the first real weaponized MQ-1C system.
Oct 27/09: The DEW Line highlights a Raytheon Program Manager job ad that discusses possible improvements to the MQ-1C fleet:
“[Raytheon] has proposed a significant upgrade program to the baseline CSP configuration to include High Definition (HD) EO/IR capability and Target Location Accuracy (TLA) enhancements. This position is the program manager (PM) of the CSP TLA/HD (approx $30M) development program. The selected individual will be responsible for managing all aspects of the development program including start up, gate reviews, customer reviews, customer daily interface, supplier management, build of 6 integration and test systems, quality testing and flight testing. It is anticipated the CSP TLA/HD development program will result in retrofit of up to 100 baseline CSP systems and this position would manage the follow-on retrofit business. The TLA/HD upgrade program will be run in parallel with the CSP IDIQ base program and will require integration and leveraging with the on-going CSP production program.”
Oct 9/09: Support. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in Poway, CA receives on Sept 30/09 a $16.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee engineering services contract, to support product improvements and new technology insertions into the ER/MP UAS.
Work will be performed in Poway, CA, with an estimated completion date of Sept 29/12. Bids were solicited online, with 1 bid received. U.S. Army Aviation & Missile Command Contraction Center, Redstone Arsenal, AL, is the contacting activity (W58RGZ-09-C-0136).
1st mission in-theater; GAO decision blasts GA-ASI; Insolvency & fraud scandal for engine-maker Thielert; UAV Wars.
August 2009: QRC-1 deploys. Deployment of Sky Warrior Block 1 (ER/MP program version), as the Quick Reaction Capability-1 (QRC-1). Feedback from the field will be incorporated into the QRC-2 deployment as software and hardware upgrades, and tactical changes. Source.
March 2/09: +8. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in San Diego, CA received a $35 million cost plus incentive fee, definitization of a letter contract to acquire 8 ERMP Quick Reaction Capability UAVs, and associated support equipment. This acquisition is directed by the Joint Chief of Staff to accommodate a surge of UAVs in theater.
Work is to be performed at San Diego, CA (46%); Adelanto, CA (14%); Palmdale, CA (8%); Salt Lake City, UT (18%); and Hunt Valley, MD (14%), with an estimated completion date of Jan 15/10. One bid was solicited and one bid received (W58RGZ-05-C-0069).
Feb 5/09: No SAR. Jane’s Defence Weekly [site] reports that:
“The US Army is suspending a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) requirement for Warrior unmanned aerial systems (UASs) in order to… speed the Warrior’s deployment to theatre, where intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets are in great demand.”
USAF MQ-1A/Bs currently carry the AN/APY-8 Lynx ground-looking synthetic aperture radar, which gives them the ability to notice certain kinds of objects more prominently, and to see through some obscurants like low clouds, smoke, etc. On Feb 5/09, General Atomics tested a Lynx II dual-beam variant, with a Space Time Adaptive Processing (STAP) upgrade developed in cooperation with BAE Systems. The modifications cancel the main beam’s GMTI (ground moving target indicator) clutter, which helps the radar detect slow-moving objects more accurately and at longer ranges.
Sept 18/08: General Atomics Aeronautical System in San Diego, CA received a $37.2 million cost plus incentive fee price contract for incremental funding for systems development and demonstration (including integration of the Hellfire Missile) for the ER/MP. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, Adelanto, CA, Palmdale, CA, Salt Lake City, UT, Hunt Valley, MD, and Huntsville, AL, with an estimated completion date of Aug 31/09. One hundred and twenty bids were solicited and 3 bids were received (W58RGZ-05-C-0069).
Aug 19/08: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego, CA received a $7.9 million cost plus fixed fee contract to acquire 3 ERMP Block 0 Unmanned Aircraft in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA with an estimated completion date of March 31/10. One bid was solicited and one bid received (W58RGZ-06-C-0208).
Aug 8/08: GA-ASI issues. A US GAO decision denies Lockheed Martin’s bid protest over the BAMS maritime surveillance UAV contract – and cites ongoing performance issues with its key partner General Atomics as the reason. The GAO summary for Bid Protest B-400135 states that:
“Agency reasonably determined, in procurement for unmanned maritime surveillance aircraft, that awardee [DID: Northrop Grumman] had significant advantage over protester [DID: Lockheed Martin] with respect to past performance where: protester’s subcontractor [DID: General Atomics], responsible for approximately 50 percent of contract effort, had recent past performance history of being unable to resolve staffing and resource issues, resulting in adverse cost and schedule performance on very relevant contracts for unmanned aircraft; record did not demonstrate that protester’s subcontractor had implemented systemic improvement that resulted in improved performance; [in contrast] operating division of the awardee also had performance problems on very relevant contracts for unmanned aircraft, many had been addressed through systemic improvement; and overall performance of awardee’s team on most evaluated contract efforts was rated better than satisfactory, while the overall performance of protester’s team on 11 of 26 contract efforts was only marginal.”
The BAMS bid in question has been based on General Atomics’ Mariner, a variant of its larger MQ-9 UAV. The GAO decision then goes on to discuss these issues in more detail, including this passage:
“In contrast, however, GA-ASI’s contract performance was a matter of great concern to the agency. Specifically, while recognizing that GA-ASI had demonstrated a willingness and ability to respond on short notice to evolving Global War on Terror (GWOT) warfighter requirements, the SSEB found that GA-ASI’s performance demonstrated: inadequate staffing, resulting in performance problems on SDD contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper (a second-generation, Predator B model) and the MQ-1C Extended Range/Multipurpose (ER/MP) UAS (a second-generation Predator model); unfavorable schedule performance on four of seven relevant GA-ASI contracts, including very relevant contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper, UAS ground control stations, MQ-1C ER/MP, I-GNAT Extended Range UAS (a version of the Predator with some differences for the Army), and MQ-1 baseline Predator; poor performance in meeting technical quality requirements on three of seven GA-ASI contracts, including contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper, MQ-1C ER/MP, and I-GNAT Extended Range UAS; and workload exceeded the firm’s capacity on five of seven GA-ASI contracts, including contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper, UAS ground control stations, MQ-1C ER/MP, I-GNAT Extended Range UAS, and MQ?1/MQ-9 maintenance support. In summary, the SSEB found the overall performance of GA-ASI on its very relevant contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper (most delivery orders), UAS ground control stations, MQ-1C ER/MP, and I-GNAT Extended Range UAS to be marginal.”
June 12/08: 1st mission. General Atomics announces that 2 MQ-1C Block 0 UAvs are now operational in Iraq. The first mission for WY-201 occurred on April 18/08 and lasted 10.5 hours. MQ-1C #WY-202 was deployed at the end of April.
May 17/08: Thielert scandal. Thielert Engines insolvency administrator Dr. Bruno M. Kubler discusses the current situation in a release, including some revelations with implications for customers like General Atomics. The statement notes that attempts are being made to keep Thielert as a an operating concern, with some flexibility shown by creditors and Frank Thielert may not be CEO, but he remains the personal holder of key permits and therefore remains involved. Meanwhile:
German insolvency law does not permit the assumption of warranties or guarantees free of charge for products and services supplied prior to the declaration of insolvency. Parts supplied after insolvency can be warrantied, but the firm is in no position to do so. Dr. Kubler hopes that aircraft manufacturers will step in.
April 28/08: STARLite radar. Northrop Grumman announces that its STARLite has been selected by the U.S. Army Communication-Electronics Life Cycle Management Command to equip ER/MP UAVs. The initial $42 million contract will finalize development, and deliver 10 radars.
The ground looking SAR/GMTI (Sythetic Aperture Radar with Ground Moving Target Indicator) fills the niche that General Atomics’ own AN/APY-8 Lynx radar occupies on USAF MQ-1A/B Predators.
April 16/08: +8. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego, CA receives $38.5 million cost-plus incentive fee contract for the acquisition of 8 ER/MP quick reaction capability unmanned aircraft vehicles and assorted support equipment.
Work will be performed primarily in San Diego, CA and is expected to be complete on May 15/09. One bid was solicited on March 17/08 (W58RGZ-05-C-0069).
April 10/08: Thielert insolvency. SkyWarrior engine maker Thielert issues a release concerning their “urgent liquidity crisis.” The act is not an isolated incident, but rather a culmination of trends that include formal charges of accounting fraud and falsification of documents.
It is followed by a declaration of insolvency in May 2008.
March 31/08: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. flies the first Sky Warrior Block 1 UAV from the company’s El Mirage Flight Operations Facility in Adelanto, CA. GA-ASI release.
March 3/08: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego, CA received an $18.7 million cost-plus incentive fee contract that provides incremental funding for system development and demonstration of the ER/MP UAV. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA; Adelanto, CA; Palmdale, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; Hunt Valley, MD; and Huntsville, AL; and is expected to be complete by Aug 31/09. There were 120 bids solicited on Sept 1/04, and 3 bids were received (W58RGZ-05-C-0069).
Feb 14/08: Raytheon announces 2 U.S. Army orders totaling $17.2 million for 18 common sensor payloads, as system design and development continues. The article does not give details that would confirm the Nov 7/07 entry as one of those contracts, but it is possible. The firm states that they’ve delivered 10 AN/DAS-2 sensors so far.
Nov 7/07: Raytheon Co. in McKinney, TX received a delivery order amount of $11 million as part of an $800 million firm-fixed-price and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for common sensors for the ARH-70A helicopter and the MQ-1C Sky Warrior ER/MP UAV. Work will be performed in McKinney, TX and is expected to be complete by Oct. 31, 2016. Bids were solicited via the World Wide Web on April 24, 2007, and 5 bids were received by the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command in Fort Monmouth, NJ (W15P7T-08-D-S602).
Raytheon’s release adds that the program calls for design and development, testing and air vehicle integration of a variant of Raytheon’s Multi-spectral Targeting System, in a project could be worth up to $1.2 billion for 875 units, if all options are exercised. See also Raytheon Feature | Common Sensor Platform product page. Raytheon’s CSP completes its Predator family trifecta; it also supplies the AN/DAS-1 system that equips MQ-1 Predator UAVs, and the AN/AAS-52 on MQ-9 Reapers. With respect to deliveries to the Sky Warrior program thus far:
“The company has delivered 10 AN/DAS-2 electro-optical/ infrared/ laser designator sensors under a system design and development contract let in May 2005. At the beginning of this year, the Army ordered seven more systems under a low rate production option.”
Oct 19/07: General Atomics Aeronautical System in San Diego, CA received a $20.8 million increment as part of a $231.2 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for system development and demonstration for the ER/MP UAV Vehicle, including integration of the Hellfire Missile.
Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (43%), Adelanto, CA (14%), Palmdale, CA (8%), Salt Lake City, UT (18%), Hunt Valley, MD (14%), and Huntsville, AL (3%), and is expected to be complete by Aug 31/09. There were 120 bids solicited on Sept. 1, 2004, and 3 bids were received (W58RGZ-05-C-0069).
Oct 1-17/07: UAV Wars. DID talks to the US Army about the SkyWarrior program. Going forward, the USAF will manage the program according to jointly agreed requirements, but each service will maintain its own budget for the UAVs it wants.
A common version will be selected and approved by late 2008, but no decision has been reached re: which version will predominate: the MQ-1B Block X/MQ-1C with 4 missile pylons and a heavy fuel engine that can burn diesel, or the existing MQ-1 that burns aviation fuel and has 2 missile pylons.
Oct 1/07: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego, CA received a $27.5 million modification to a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for contractor logistics support for the Sky Warrior Block 0 Unmanned Aircraft System.
Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (80%); Hunt Valley, MD (10%); and Salt Lake City, UT (10%); and is expected to be complete by Sept. 27, 2008. This was a sole source contract initiated on Sept. 14, 2007 (DAAH01-03-C-0124).
UAV Wars between US Army & USAF; Army Future Combat System changes improve ER/MP’s opportunity; 1st ER/MP flight; ER/MP development contract issued.
Sept 28/07: UAV Wars. In its Daily Report for this date, the Air Force Association’s Air Force Magazine Online discusses the UAV executive agency issue:
“Defending the recent Pentagon decision not to give the Air Force executive agency over medium- to high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles, Army Secretary Pete Geren told defense reporters Thursday that the Army’s modernization goals don’t fit with an executive agent approach. “The need for control with UAVs fits close to the individual soldier,” Geren said. Part of the Army’s Future Combat Systems program is to empower soldiers and give them greater control over assets such as UAVs. He noted that Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley have met on the issue recently to work out disagreements. “Some of the disagreements have arisen because these issues have not been tackled at a high enough level,” Geren said. While sympathetic to the Air Force’s perspective, he noted that an executive agent approach that’s advocated by some would make sense if we were fighting a conventional war. “It’s a different debate when you’re talking about the kind of fight we are in today,” Geren declared.”
See also Military.com’s article re: the decision fallout.
Sept 13/07: UAV Wars. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England rejects Air Force efforts to become the executive agent for all medium- and high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles, over objections from the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. In his memo, England directed the Pentagon’s acquisition office to create a task force on UAV issues to “enhance operations, enable interdependencies, and streamline acquisition” of the drones. He also directed Pentagon officials to take other steps to foster cross-service collaboration on the UAV programs.
The Predator and SkyWarrior programs, however, have been merged. The exact meaning of that move remains to be seen – either to standardize the Predator on a similar SkyWarrior/MQ-1C version, or eliminate the Warrior variant and use existing MQ-1As. GovExec | The Hill.
Aug 22/07: A $5.15 million increment as part of a $215.4 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for system development and demonstration for the ER/MP UAV. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (43%), Adelanto, CA (14%), Palmdale, CA (8%), Salt Lake City, UT (18%), Hunt Valley, MD (14%), and Huntsville, AL (3%), and is expected to be complete by Aug. 31, 2009. There were 120 bids solicited on Sept. 1, 2004, and 3 bids were received (W58RGZ-05-C-0069).
According to DID’s calculations based on DefenseLINK public announcements, about $167 million of the $215.4 million ER/MP program’s contracts have been issued as of this increment.
Aug 6/07: +2 YMQ-1C. General Atomics in San Diego, CA received a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for $7.3 million to provide 2 Pre-Production YMQ-1C Block X aircraft. General Atomics has confirmed to DID that these are USAF versions of the Army Sky Warrior. See the May 7/07 entry and Appendix A for details; this award should be seen in the context of the USAF’s effort to take over UAV authority.
At this time, total funds have been obligated. Solicitations began in April 2006, negotiations were completed in July 2007, and work will be complete in January 2009 (FA8620-05-G-3028-0018).
July 5/07: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego, CA received a $14.7 million increment as part of a $215.4 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for system development and demonstration for the ER/MP Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (43%), Adelanto, CA (14%), Palmdale, CA (8%), Salt Lake City, UT (18%), Hunt Valley, MD (14%), and Huntsville, AL (3%), and is expected to be complete by Aug. 31, 2009. There were 120 bids solicited on Sept. 1, 2004, and 3 bids were received (W58RGZ-05-C-0069).
June 27/07: UAV Wars. Air Force Times report: With the question of whether there should be an executive agency in charge of medium- and high-altitude UAVs still hanging in the air, U.S. deputy defense secretary Gordon England wrote in a letter earlier in June to Army and Air Force leaders asking the services to collaborate on procuring and operating the Predator and Warrior UAVs. Army and Air Force officials were asked to submit briefings to England by the end of June 2007.
June 6/07: The first ER/MP Sky Warrior aircraft flew successfully from General Atomics’ El Mirage Flight Operations Facility in Adelanto, CA. The company-owned Block 0 aircraft completed all stated objectives for its maiden flight. General Atomics release.
May 17/07: UAV Wars. The Congressional Government Accountability Office releases report #GAO-07-578, “Greater Synergies Possible for DOD’s Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Systems,” which explicitly discusses the possible merger of Warrior & Predator programs. It mentions that “The Air Force and the Army are currently working to identify program synergies in a three-phased approach:
First, the Air Force will acquire and test two of the more modern Warrior airframes.
May 10/07: The JROC directs the USAF to flesh out its executive agency plan. No firm deadline is set, and no firm decision is taken.
May 7/07: “Predator Block X”. General Atomics in San Diego, CA received a $10.1 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract from the USAF’s Headquarters Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH. This contract action will provide a series of required tasks to design, fabricate, integrate, and test the Predator MQ-1B Block X aircraft which will utilize a Heavy Full Engine (HFE), will support a 3,200 lbs gross take-off weight, and will carry 4 Hellfire missiles (2 on each wing). The Predator MQ-1B Block X shall leverage off technology from the existing Predator B (MQ-9) program, the Army’s ER/MP program, and on-going GA-ASI internal research and development efforts. At this time, total funds have been obligated. Solicitations began June 2006 and negotiations were complete April 2007 (FA8620-05-G-3028-0016).
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the ability to operate the engine on “heavy” fuels like diesel, and to carry 4 Hellfire missiles instead of 2, constitute the two biggest differences between the USAF’s MQ-1 Predator and the Army’s Warrior UAV. This award should be seen in the context of the USAF’s effort to take over UAV authority, vid. Appendix A.
May 7/07: UAV Wars. Officials with the DoD’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) meet with Army and Air Force officials to discuss proposals to put all such UAVs under a single executive agency. See Appendix A for more background.
April 6/07: General Atomics Aeronautical System in San Diego, CA received a $5.3 million modification to a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for ERMP Block 0 UAVs. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (65%), Adelanto, CA (5%), Palmdale, CA (5%), and Salt Lake City, UT (25%), and is expected to be complete by Aug. 31, 2007. This was a sole source contract initiated on June 21, 2006 (W58RGZ-06-C-0208).
March 5/07: UAV Wars. US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley’s circulates a memo, proposing to name his service as the Pentagon executive agent for UAVs. See Appendix A for more background.
Feb 14/07: 4 more. General Atomics Aeronautical System in San Diego, CA received an $11.7 million modification to a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for acquisition of 4 ERMP Block 0 UAVs, associated support equipment, and initial spares. This appears to be the initial installment on the test aircraft.
Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (65%), Adelanto, CA (5%), Palmdale, CA (5%), and Salt Lake City, UT (25%), and is expected to be complete by Dec. 18, 2007. This was a sole source contract initiated on June 21, 2006 (W58RGZ-06-C-0208).
Jan 9/07: FCS changes. The US Army restructures its $160+ billion Future Combat Systems program, and “delays”/ eliminates its Class II and Class III UAVs. The Warrior ERMP is expected to be one of the existing systems filling the Class III brigade-level gap.
Dec 22/06: General Atomics Aeronautical System, San Diego, CA was received a $63.1 million increment as part of “a $215.4 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for System Development and Demonstration for the Extended Range / Multi-Purpose Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.”
Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (43%), Adelanto, CA (14%), Palmdale, CA (8%), Salt Lake City, UT (18%), Hunt Valley, MD (14%), and Huntsville, AL (3%), and is expected to be complete by Aug. 31, 2009. There were 120 bids solicited on Sept. 1, 2004, and 3 bids were received by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-05-C-0069).
March 13/06: DID – Warrior UAV Program Underway. $67 million increment received for the Warrior program, as part of a “$214.3 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for System Development and Demonstration for the Extended Range / Multi-Purpose Unmanned Aerial Vehicle” (W58RGZ-05-C-0069).
Oct 6/05: DID – AAI Takes Another UAV Ground Control Project. A $30 million subcontract for the Warrior UAV’s ground control.
Aug 8/05: Winner! General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in San Diego, CA has won a $214.4 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for research, development, test and evaluation of the Extended Range Multi Purpose Unmanned Aerial Vehicle system (ERMP UAV).
One hundred twenty bids were solicited on Sept 1/04, and 3 bids were received. Work will be performed at facilities in 6 locations: San Diego, Adelanto and Palmdale, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; Hunt Valley, MD; and Huntsville, AL, and is estimated to be complete by Aug. 31, 2009. The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL issued the contract (W58RGZ-05-C-0069). The Army’s public affairs office can be reached at (256) 955-9174.
Faced with an aerial tanker fleet that’s 50+ years old, front line fighters under flight restrictions due to age and fatigue, and heavy strain on transport aircraft resources, the USAF has been making strenuous efforts to take over the UAV domain. At the moment, UAVs are bought by individual services: Army, Navy, USAF, Marines. The Army in particular has been using UAVs for reconnaissance and persistent fire support, as in-house assets that involve less organizational friction to deploy, and can be prioritized for purchase according to the needs of soldiers on the ground.
The USAF had asked for authority over all American UAVs before, but this was refused. The Pentagon’s JROC(Joint Requirements Oversight Committee) determined that an executive agent was not necessary. Instead, they created the Joint Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Center of Excellence at Creech Air Force Base, NV to share operational tips; and the Joint Unmanned Aerial Systems Materiel Review Board in order to work out best practices for materiel. There is also a US Army UAV Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, AL.
The end of the argument? No, because of the organizational and budgetary threat that non-USAF UAVs represent.
One measure of the potential threat can be inferred from usage figures. As of September 2007, MQ-1 Predator UAVs had reached 300,000 flight hours since inception around 2001, of which 80% were combat flight. Fully 1/3 of those flight hours were accumulated in the previous 12 months, and total fleet flying hours had risen to 10,000 hours/month. On Nov 9/07, Jane’s International Defense Review reported that by the end of the second quarter of Fiscal Year 2007, US Army UAVs had flown a total of 295,181 hours in Iraq, nearly 18% of the total hours flown by the army aviation fleet.
Well below a Predator’s size threshold, US Army RQ-7 Shadow battalion-level UAVs are racking up 8,000 flight hours per month in Iraq (almost equal to the Predators’ recent totals), accompanied by US Army RQ-5 Hunter aircraft that sit somewhere between a Predator and Shadow in size and are accumulating their own flight time. Smaller UAVs like the popular RQ-11 Raven, meanwhile, are racking up their own significant totals, with shorter flight times offset by much larger numbers in the field to produce 300,000 flight hours in 2007 alone. The Army reached 1 million UAV flight hours for its fleet of RQ-5 Hunter, RQ-7 Shadow, RQ-11 Raven, RQ-18 gMAV, and MQ-1C ER/MP UAVs in April 2010, and is adding to that at 25,000 hours per month.
The RQ-5 Hunters have been tested with Viper Strike mini-bombs, and the Shadows may be eligible as well if the Army wishes. Shadows will certainly be eligible for NAVAIR’s 5-6 pound Spike missile project (scheduled for an autumn 2007 UAV test), and all UAVs can provide targeting for M30 GPS-guided MLRS rockets, long-range ATACMS MLRS missiles, or the 155mm Excalibur artillery shells entering service in Q3 2007. Larger UAVs like the Sky Warrior add Hellfire II missiles, the 250 lb. Small Diameter Bombs, and 250 – 500 lb. GPS-guided JDAMs or laser-guided Paveway bombs to the mix.
With these fire support assets on the airframe or on call, most close air support functions encountered in counterinsurgency missions can be covered.
Manned fighters offer their own advantages: anti-air capabilities, a payload capacity several times a UAV’s, greatly improved panoramic visibility, no need for potentially vulnerable or limited-bandwidth long-range communications in order to fly, better intimidation presence via fast flyovers, and better survivability/ fewer crashes. In counterinsurgency scenarios, however, air threats are minimal to nonexistent, fighters are usually loaded with just a couple of weapons; and except for the A-10 or dedicated COIN (COunter-INsurgency) turboprops, the planes are moving so quickly that they must rely on targeting pods with the same narrow field of view as a UAV pilot’s. That still leaves intimidation and survivability advantages, but your average jet fighter is extremely expensive to buy, has a 7,000 – 10,000 hour airframe life, costs many multiples of dollars per flight hour to operate, and offers an on-station time that is usually less than half that of a Predator class MALE UAV.
Specialty close-support aircraft like the USA’s A-10, gunships like the AC-130s, and even COIN turboprops offer combinations of affordability and/or compelling advantages that keep them competitive in counterinsurgency scenarios. Can the same be said for the USAF’s F-16s, F-15… or its future F-35 Lightning II and F-22A Raptor fighters? In their January 2007 article “UAVs With Bite,” Air Force Magazine notes that:
“The Air Force now has provisional plans to buy some 170 Predator MQ-1s by 2010 and acquire 50 to 70 MQ-9s by around 2012, for a total of 220 or more of the combat-capable drones. At present, the service plans on retiring a comparable number of F-16s over the same period.”
This calculus is why some observers saw the UAV fight as the “Key West Agreement” fight for the 21st century, with the outcome determining the future organizational backbone and role of the USAF – and other services besides.
Hence the USAF’s persistence. The USAF’s return foray in March 2007 involved a move to take over acquisition authority for all UAVs designed to operate at “medium or high altitudes.” Battalion-level UAVs like the RQ-7 Shadow 200 might or might not escape, but even so the maneuver would neatly strip away virtually all armed UAVs, and hence the bureaucratic threat of Army UAVs evolving toward the USAF’s close air support role. Besides, with the USAF re-organizing its ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance) assets into their own dedicated function, they can always come back for the rest later under a “unified ISR” claim, once a large portion of UAV acquisition and prioritization are already under their control.
The ER/MP Warrior program is obviously a front-line target in this fight, given its derivation from the MQ-1 Predator UAVs the USAF had already bought in quantity, before switching future orders to the larger MQ-9 Reaper.
Three broad-brush outcomes were possible:
# The US Army and USAF retain separate control of their UAVs, and continue to work out standards et. al. through the established joint centers of excellence; Warrior program unaffected. # The USAF does NOT acquire executive authority over UAVs, but there is consolidation between the US Army and USAF MQ-1 variants/programs to a common version. This is the current state. The Warrior program survives only if it becomes that common version. # The USAF acquires executive authority over “medium to high altitude” UAVs. The ER/MP Warrior UAV program is almost certainly canceled, future USMC programs are under threat, and the Navy will have to fight to maintain control of its own programs.
In the end, the answer was solution #1, with a twist. The USAF also switched its future UAV production plans from the Predator to the MQ-9 Reaper, whose high altitude performance and 3,000 pound ordnance load give it dramatically different capabilities.
There’s obviously a larger debate going on here. The Kasserine Pass disaster in World War 2, where commanders in quiet sectors refused to turn over their aircraft to units under fire, provided the impetus for today’s TacAir system, which puts airmen in charge of managing and allocating air assets in response to the needs of the ground commander. At some level, the USAF arguments hark back to that concept, and to the 1948 “Key West Accords,” which ended up turning Army Aviation into a helicopter force. There’s also a procurement angle, as noted during coverage of USAF Chief of Staff Moseley’s testimony on this issue before Congress:
“Without an executive agency, the services will likely continue their separate design and procurement efforts, and the DOD will have forfeited the considerable savings it could have realized. Additionally, DOD will have lost an opportunity to create and harness the interservice synergies that would result from building upon — rather than duplicating — each service’s strengths, General Moseley said.”
On the other hand, the US Army hasn’t always felt well served by the USAF’s procurement priorities, which many feel have tended to emphasize high-end USAF assets at the expense of some key roles (forward observation, light transport, close support) needed by troops on the ground. That fact that UAVs serve in a couple of the roles that have previously received short shrift doesn’t make the Army feel any better. They also worry that a service run by fighter jocks is likely to steer unmanned systems away from anything that might intrude on their established roles, or call high-ticket platforms into question. The last 40 years of organizational and political theory tends to support that worry.
Tim Owings, deputy project manager for the Army’s unmanned aircraft systems:
“From our perspective, consistently what has come out of theater is the need for our commanders to have direct control and ownership of the UAV application. That has played out in every theater that we have been in.”
In 2010, director of the Army Quadrennial Defense Review Timothy Muchmore brought the issue into sharp relief, when he was quoted as saying that:
“The air power provided by our sister services has dominated the third dimension, but the Army is unable to leverage that third dimension… We’ve had two combat outposts overrun by superior forces [during the past year]. Those are losses that we consider unacceptable, because we couldn’t see what was going on around the outposts.”
Anyone who has worked in a large organization can see the shape of the bureaucratic battle here. On one side, you have the staff department, preaching the benefits and savings of centralization and standards, and urging central control over the function. Some of those benefits may be real. Some of the “joint” and “team” rhetoric may also be real. But the real issue is control. On the other hand, you have the front-line business unit managers who want resources that are dedicated to their needs – and under their clear authority, in order to ensure required accountability and service levels. Some of that may be required. Still, the key is not so much the promised dedication as the control that guarantees it. Throw in a central department that has sometimes placed business unit needs lower on the priority scale than their own long term plans, add a dash of politics, and stir.
The US Navy, with a long history of running its own aviation programs, and the qualifying UCAS-D unmanned strike aircraft and BAMS maritime reconnaissance UAV programs underway, will not be watching idly. Nor will the US Marines, who also operate integrated aircraft and have UAV plans of their own.
There’s always a proper balance point in any organization, and points beyond which either central control or local control of key functions can become dysfunctional. The thing is, there’s no set recipe. It’s different in each organization, and depends on the situation, past institutional performance, and (legitimately) on the personalities involved at the time.
Where is that balance point for the US military and UAVs? Because there’s a larger issue a-wing beyond the ER/MP program – and this time, getting the answer right really is a matter of life and death.
= DID is aware that the US Army Air Corps no longer exists.
fn1. A communication from General Atomics to DID referred to the platform as the “MC-1C”, a designation DID subsequently used in the article. Andreas Parsch of the fine site Designation Systems asked some questions about that, and the investigation revealed that it had been a typo. DID has corrected the article accordingly. Danke schön, Andreas.
Associated Press – Rise of the Machines: UAV Use Soars. Very interesting facts and figures concerning UAV use.
“Predator-series aircraft have amassed over a half-million flight hours and will soon complete 50,000 total missions, with 85-percent of that time spent in combat… Predator-series aircraft are now flying over 20,000 hours a month supporting U.S. coalition forces in combat and homeland security requirements… In the past year alone, monthly flight hours have doubled. Over 300 Predator-series aircraft have been produced to date”
DID (Aug 29/08) – UAMS Experiment Brings Deconfliction Closer for Smaller UAVs. If efforts like UAMS succeed, the argument for single-service UAV control suffers a major blow.
bq. “Only 34 of the 1,200 drones U.S. forces are using in Southwest Asia can operate beyond the line of sight of ground controllers, so sometimes the wait for access to that handful of planes can be quite lengthy… Under the Army plan, if five divisions were deployed in Iraq (as is presently the case), their combined inventory of 60 Predators would be able to keep 12-15 aloft at any given time. In contrast, the approach used by the Air Force can keep nearly three times as many drones in the air because the availability of the fleet is not tied to rotation patterns and concentrating all the drones at a few sites permits maintenance efficiencies.”
Air Force Magazine (July 2007) – The Drone War [PDF, see also Google HTML format]
Thanks to DID correspondent Trent Telenko for his assistance.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems – Gray Eagle UAS
Raytheon – AN/DAS-2 Common Sensor Platform product page
Pentagon, via WayBack (April 2012) – Department of Defense Report to Congress on Future Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training, Operations, and Sustainability [PDF]
War Is Boring (Sept 29/14) – Air Force Drone Crews Got So Demoralized That They Booed Their Commander. Mistakes for the Army to avoid, though having lower-ranking operators will help.
Notes are encrypted so only you can see them.
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