Coast Guard freezes funds for Eagle Eye UAV

Published 22 October 2007

The Coast Guard was interested in the rotary wing surveillance UAV as part of the Deepwater program, and the deal was estimated to be worth up to $1 billion for Bell Helicopter; Coast Guard is now rethinking its interest in Eagle Eye

Big blow to Fort Worth, Texas-based Bell Hellicopter, as the Coast Guard is reconsidering a UAV contract which was estimated to have a total worth up to $1 billion for the company. Development of the Bell Helicopter-made Eagle Eye UAV has been put on hold as the Coast Guard explores other options for ship-based rotary wing surveillance aircraft. The Coast Guard has frozen funds marked for development and purchase of Eagle Eye, a tilt-rotor unmanned system which resembles the Marine Corps’ MV-22 Osprey aircraft. Navytimes’s Patricia Kime reports that aviation program managers in the service’s Integrated Deepwater Systems office have decided to examine alternatives to Eagle Eye to see whether the craft provides what they call the “best market value” for the Coast Guard. “Technically, the program is not canceled. It’s a good UAV. But we looked at the money and looked at the priorities, and we are studying other UAVs to determine the best value for the mission,” Coast Guard spokesman George Kardulias said. Under the Deepwater modernization program, the Coast Guard was to purchase up to sixty-nine Eagle Eye UAV systems for surveillance, reconnaissance, and security missions. The aircraft were to deploy on the eight national security cutters and twenty-five offshore patrol cutters being built under the Deepwater modernization program. They also were to go on board the service’s existing 270-foot and 378-foot cutters. The fiscal 2004 Homeland Security Appropriations Act included $50 million to develop three Eagle Eye prototypes, and the contract was estimated to have a total worth up to $1 billion for Bell Helicopter.

The Coast Guard selected Eagle Eye because its design allows it to travel at speeds up to 210 knots. It also is designed to stay on target up to four hours and locate moving targets 80 to 110 nautical miles away in less than 30 minutes. Since selecting Eagle Eye as part of the initial Deepwater program’s system-of-systems design in June 2002, the rotary-wing UAV market has exploded, with nearly forty types now on the market or under development. The Navy selected the Northrop Grumman-made MQ-8B Fire Scout rotary wing UAV for its littoral combat ships, and on 12 October, Boeing announced that in tests, its A160T Hummingbird flew for twelve hours carrying a payload of 500 pounds.

Mike Cox, a spokesman for Bell Helicopter, said Friday the company remains optimistic about their product’s future. Kime writes that if the Coast Guard elects to purchase a different UAV, the decision would likely kill the Eagle Eye program. There may be some hope, though, as the Marine Corps, which flies Bell’s MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, has expressed interest in Eagle Eye as a possible UAV platform for the service.