Navy Resists Air Force Pressure for Joint UAV

K.B. Sherman, 2004

Despite pressure exerted by the USAF to choose Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk UAV as its Broad Area Maritime Surveillance 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 arm on the Navy to abandon its own procurement effort for the BAMS UAV.

A Global Hawk equipped with mission package 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 DOD’s aviation program as possible, especially with UAVs and UCAVs clearly moving to challenge the number of manned tactical aircraft within the next several decades. The Navy has been envisioning a three-way competition for supplying the BAMS UAV, with General Dynamics’ unmanned G550 and Lockheed/General Atomics’ Predator-B bidding against Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk.

The Navy actually plans to arm the BAMS aircraft, creating a UCAV for broad area maritime, littoral, armed ISR 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.” LT Jon Spiers, CHINFO spokesman, said that the Navy had no comment on the reported contest between Navy and Air Force for control of the BAMS program. Rather, he explained, 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, said Spiers, 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 selectee, the Navy’s AOA backs open competition among vendors that have “mature systems with variants already in use by DOD.” In March, reinforcing the AOA, John Young, assistant Navy secretary for research, development and acquisition, said that BAMS remains open for competition.

The RFP 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.

The Air Force would like the Navy to accept the Predator-B as its BAMS UAV; the Navy may have other plans