Naval Air: May 16, 2004

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Despite pressure exerted by the USAF to choose the Global Hawk UAV as its Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) aircraft, the USN has announced that it will proceed with its own acquisition plan. Claiming its was motivated by a desire to increase the cost effectiveness of the Global Hawk Program through lower prices on hardware, savings in logistics support, common training, shared infrastructure, and enhanced jointness, the Air Force had been putting the heat on the Navy to abandon its own procurement effort for the BAMS UAV. 

A Global Hawk, equipped with cameras and other sensors and electronics, currently costs the Air Force about $28 million, based upon the number the Air Force buys. The Air Force currently plans for a production run of approximately 51 Global Hawks. A cynic might be forgiven for suspecting that the USAF's proposal was at least in part generated by the Air Force's likely desire to retain control of as much of Department of Defenses aviation program as possible, especially with UAVs and UCAVs clearly moving to replace a lot of manned tactical aircraft within the next several decades. 

The Navy has been envisioning a three-way competition for supplying the BAMS UAV, with an unmanned Gulfstream G550 (a 40 ton business jet) and the Predator-B bidding against Global Hawk. The BAMS UAV has to be capable of standoff, sustained high altitude surveillance and reconnaissance, and attack. It will operate at ranges up to 5,400 kilometers from its launch area, with loiter capability over the target area of up to 24 hours at altitudes greater than 60,000 feet, with extended low-level capability when needed. It must be capable of simultaneously carrying day and night vision digital video cameras as well as high definition radar, and must be capable of both wideband satellite and Line-Of-Sight (LOS) data link communications. Command will be from the MMA aircraft or from other stations through satellite link.

The Navy actually plans to arm the BAMS aircraft, creating a UCAV for broad area high seas, coastal and armed reconnaissance in conjunction with the Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft. MMA/BAMS is to begin replacing the P-3 by 2012. BAMS would also potentially become a fleet-wide workhorse, offering support to carrier task forces, Marine Expeditionary Units, and other fleet "customers."

The Navy has no comment on the reported contest between Navy and Air Force for control of the BAMS program. The BAMS program is being guided by an Analysis of Alternatives concluded last April, in which the Navy examined approximately two dozen UAV configurations. Last summer, the Office of the Secretary of Defense ordered the Navy to show an accelerated BAMS effort through changes to its 2005 budget. Among top considerations are performance, cost, and risk associated with the different choices for persistent maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. 

While some documents from the office of the secretary of defense do suggest a preference for Global Hawk as the BAMS UAV, the Navy wants open competition among vendors that have "mature systems with variants already in use by DOD." 

The RFP (request for proposal) is expected to be released this summer, with a System Development and Demonstration contract awarded toward the end of 2005. The Navy estimates the cost to develop and buy Low Rate Initial Production systems will be roughly $1.3 billion. K.B. Sherman

 


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