San Diego Union Tribune


July 26, 2006
Navy's UAV contracts could pit San Diego firms against each other
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
 
WASHINGTON – The Navy has been using the high-flying unmanned aircraft made by one San Diego-based firm to prepare for a contract offer expected to pit that company against another San Diego-based firm for the billion-dollar-plus program.

Naval Air Systems Command has been flying two unmanned Global Hawk air vehicles, called UAVs, in exercises and tests over both the Atlantic and Pacific to increase its knowledge of high-altitude ocean reconnaissance missions. It also hopes to refine the requirements for the upcoming Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) contract, the program director said Wednesday.

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“We've learned a lot about high-altitude maritime surveillance and we continue to learn,” said Capt. Paul Morgan, director of the Navy-Marine Corps Unmanned Aerial Systems office at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland.

The Global Hawks are produced by Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems, headquartered in San Diego. General Atomics Aeronautical, also based there, likely will offer a larger version of its proven Predator UAV for the Navy contract.

Bids also are expected from other U.S. and European manufacturers for what will be one of the biggest UAV programs coming in the near term.

For the Navy tests, one Global Hawk has been flying out of Edwards Air Force Base in California, supporting Pacific Rim exercises. Another was flying from Patuxent River supporting other exercises in the Atlantic, Morgan said.

The radar and other sensors on the Global Hawks have been modified to adjust to the open-ocean conditions. But the exercises have shown shortfalls in those maritime capabilities and in procedures to share the sensor data with those needing it, Morgan said.

All that has helped inform the specifications and requirements for the BAMS program, he said.

BAMS will be a package of high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft, an assortment of airborne sensors able to find and track targets at sea, and communications and control systems to manage the UAVs and allow the sharing of the data they collect. The unmanned systems will complement the Navy's manned multimission maritime aircraft, the Boeing-made P-8, which will replace the 1970s-vintage P-3 Orions.

Jenifer Beckman, department head for endurance UAVs, said the office would send out a notice, probably Wednesday, to tell interested contractors that copies of the statement of objectives and specifications for BAMS are available for their review.

The Navy expects to issue a draft request for proposals (RFP) for the contract in September or October, Beckman said. The final RFP, which would open a competitive bidding process, would be issued in the December-January period, and the Navy hopes to award a contract in September 2007, Beckman said.