San Diego Union Tribune

May 18, 2006

Two S.D. firms could be competing for Navy contract
BAMS is called huge undertaking

By Otto Kreisher

CALIFORNIA, Md. – The Navy yesterday unveiled some details of what could be a multibillion-dollar contract for an unmanned air reconnaissance system that is expected to pit two San Diego firms against each other.

At a briefing in southeastern Maryland near the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, nine senior Navy officers and defense officials described the requirements and schedule for a major program called the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance system to more than 200 aerospace industry representatives.

Northrop Grumman and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems are expected to compete for the program, also known as BAMS.

The project would require scores of sophisticated flying drones, an array of high-technology sensors and communications systems, and associated ground control and data-receiving stations.

“BAMS is a huge undertaking” that presents “tremendous growth opportunities” for the aerospace industry, said Vice Adm. Walter Massenburg, commander of the Naval Air Systems Command.

“This program is absolutely critical,” said Dyke Weatherington, director of the Pentagon's task force that oversees unmanned air system programs.

Although none of the officials would give any estimate of the number of aircraft required or the potential cost of the contract, the specifications call for enough systems to cover five major areas of the world 24 hours a day, year round. That would require dozens of aircraft and associated systems that could cost more than $50 million each.

Officials stressed that the program has attracted interest from at least nine foreign nations, which could increase the size of the contract substantially.

Weatherington emphasized that BAMS was not just an unmanned air vehicle but an unmanned aerial system capable of providing persistent maritime surveillance and data collection.

“If you focus on the vehicle, your focus would be wrong. You have to focus on delivering the service,” he said.

The program requires a large unmanned aircraft capable of flying 2,000 nautical miles each way and remaining in service for at least 24 hours, while surveying large areas of open ocean or coastal areas with state-of-the-art sensors.

It also must be able to relay the intelligence it collects to both land-based command posts half a world away and to Navy task forces operating nearby, Massenburg and the other officials said. BAMS also could fill in as a long-range communications relay asset, they said.

Northrop Grumman's high-flying and long-endurance Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, already in use by the Air Force, and a larger version of General Atomics' widely used Predator UAS, called Mariner, are expected to be leading candidate for BAMS. Both programs are managed from San Diego County headquarters, although the aircraft are built elsewhere.

The size of the potential contract is expected to attract offers from other producers.

The Navy is using two Global Hawks to test the operational concepts and sensors that could be used in BAMS. But the officials emphasized that Global Hawk was not the chosen vehicle for BAMS.

To bid on the BAMS contract, the unmanned aircraft producers would have to team with a number of electronics firms for the radar and other sensors and the communications and control systems required.

Navy aviation officials told the industry representatives that the final requirements for BAMS are expected to be approved this summer and the invitation for bids should be released by January, with a contract awarded by September 2007.

The first of the aircraft and sensors are to be ready for testing in 2011 and the system ready for operational use in 2013.

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