Army, Navy seek new vertical take-off UAV

The services want to collaborate as they consider how to build a new unmanned aerial vehicle they could each adapt to their own needs.

The Army and Navy could collaborate on a new vertical take-off and landing surveillance drone, according to a notice filed Monday. They’ll be seeking information about how quickly the aerospace industry could get something flying that would work for both services but also meet their specific needs. Or as the Army put it in its request for information:

This RFI is to support the Army development of the MRMP acquisition strategy and to inform the collaborative Army and Navy Medium Range Maritime UAS (MRMUAS) Analysis of Alternatives (AoA). The MRMUAS AoA will be a joint collaboration between the Navy and Army to specifically evaluate alternatives and determine what components, sub-components, or technologies could be cooperatively and jointly developed to reduce total ownership cost in the Department of Defense (DoD). Respondents to this RFI shall provide information for an Army VTOL solution only. The Navy in parallel to the Army will release an RFI for Navy VTOL solutions and the two Services will exchange information.

The Army intends to move forward with the MRMP VTOL Technology Development phase in FY12 and deploy competitive systems in FY13. Deployments of the competitive systems will support down-select to a single vendor in FY14.

Although the Army and the Navy want their unmanned systems to do different things, service officials probably hope this kind of collaboration is music to the ears of the top Pentagon brass. Under the hard glare of Congress, DoD wants to show it can save money by cutting back on duplication. So if both services buy the same robot helicopter and then bolt on the specific equipment they need, everybody wins, right?

Maybe. Army and Navy officials have had their ups and downs in these kinds of collaborations — the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, for example, bounced back and forth between the services before finally being wholly adopted by the Navy. Commanders say they like it, but the Army wasn’t satisfied. When the Navy was relying on the Army to develop its Non-Line of Sight missiles, the “box of rockets” that the surface force needed to become a major weapon for the littoral combat ship, the Army pulled the rug out from underneath and killed the program for poor performance.

Now it sounds like service officials want to think about collaborating again, but in the current climate of austerity, maybe they’ll make a more serious go at it.

One more thing: It’s worth following the link to that RFI because it goes into good detail about what the Army wants for its next generation of unmanned systems, and the kinds of environments in which it thinks they’ll operate. Here’s just one example, under “survivability,” which makes it sound as though the Army wants to know whether this new drone will be able to survive a laser battle: “Directed Energy Weapons – (1.) Describe the ability of the VTOL UA to survive the effects of directed energy weapons.”