UAV roundupNorthrop Grumman decides to enter Navy UAV competition

Published 20 October 2006

Company proposes its Global Hawk for the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance program; cost remains an issue for widespread UAV deployment, but Navy sees much to gain in a technology with a long flight time and a high ceiling

Northrop Grumman has been burning up the wires recently, what with three new contracts in just one week. These included a two-year, $8.5 million deal to integrate a data link on the F-22 Raptor with other military communications platforms, and a 16-month, $25 million deal to continue developmental work on the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, a communications network for airborne military units. Yet we are more interested in a contract yet to come, for which Northrop has just announced it will be a major bidder: the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV program, scheduled for deployment by 2013. The company’s proposal offers the company’s flagship UAV, the Global Hawk, “which can carry 3,000 pounds of sensors and equipment, fly up to 60,000 feet, and survey more than 40,000 square miles within 24 hours,” Congress Daily reported.

Although it is too early to tell whether the Global Hawk is the best candidate — San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin are likely competitors. It is a battle-tested system, and the Navy expects to put it to frequent use. Reliability remains an issue — a number of Global Hawks have crashed in Afghanistan due in part to technical difficulties — and does cost. A DHS inspector general’s report last year said UAVs “remain very costly to operate and require a significant amount of logistical support as well as specialized operator and maintenance training,” a fact few could deny. Nevertheless, UAVs should eventually become cheaper than manned aircraft — they have only a small “deployed footprint” of necessary infrastructure and personnel — and their ability to stay at high altitudes for long periods is a distinct advantage.

Other countries have shown interest in the Global Hawk as well. The Australian Air Force, for instance, is carefully considering them for land and maritime surveillance, and so too are Germany and Canada, both of which see a good opportunity to replace fleets of manned surveillance and patrol craft.

-read more in Chris Strohm’s CongressDaily report