Posted by John Keller
Effects of the Pentagon's cuts in its proposed 2013 DOD budget are starting to drive home in tangible ways. On Monday the U.S. Navy formally cancelled its program to develop the Medium Range Maritime Unmanned Aerial System (MRMUAS) -- which was to be an vertical-takeoff-and-landing surveillance unmanned aircraft that could operate from ships and cover long distances and stay in the air for long periods.
Although the Navy announced the MRMUAS unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) cancellation Feb. 13 when the Pentagon submitted its 2013 budget request to Congress, this past Monday saw the Navy formally cancel its MRMUAS solicitation, which service officials had issued last September. The MRMUAS was to be a follow-on to the Navy Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter for maritime reconnaissance and surveillance.
Cancellation of the Navy's MRMUAS solicitation leaves in limbo the defense prime contractors who had placed bids to develop the new maritime surveillance UAV, which was to be fielded in 2018 or 2019, and would be bigger than the MQ-8B, with a nine-hour endurance.
A team of BAE Systems and AVX Aircraft Co. had put in a bid to develop MRMUAS. Boeing had been expected to bid the company's A160 Hummingbird UAV, and Northrop Grumman had proposed the company's MQ-8C Fire-X UAV that combines the Fire Scout operating system and the airframe of the Bell Helicopter 407. Other UAV developers such as Aurora Flight Sciences and DragonFly Pictures also had expressed interest.
The Navy's MRMUAS program cancellation also brings up an interesting and potentially awkward situation with the U.S. Army where medium-range UAV development is concerned.
Navy officials had combined their MRMUAS program with the Army's program to develop a Medium-Range Multi-Purpose (MRMP) vertical take-off and landing system. Now with the Navy's MRMUAS cancellation, Army officials will be forced to develop their MRMP program on their own, or follow suit and abandon the program.
The situation is eerily similar to one in the past in which the Army and Navy were to collaborate on what would become the MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV. The Army began that program as part of the now-cancelled Future Combat Systems (FCS) program. After the Navy joined the effort, the Army cancelled it to leave the Navy to develop the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter on its own.