Indian Army close to releasing unmanned helicopter RFI

Indian Army close to releasing unmanned helicopter RFI

27-Jun-2011 Source: Indian Army

The Army is moving closer to a decision on whether to invest in a new unmanned helicopter.

The service expects to issue a “request for information” next week for a vertical-takeoff and landing (VTOL) unmanned aircraft, Army officials said during a June 23 conference call with reporters.

As an interim step before it decides to buy a new aircraft, the Army is experimenting with A-160 Hummingbirds, 35-feet long unmanned helicopters that can conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and transport cargo for more than 20 hours at up to 30,000 feet.

The Army is outfitting the A-160 with a wide-area surveillance payload and a signals-intelligence sensor package as part of a quick-reaction capability (QRC) project to speed technologies to the battlefield.

The service has completed the integration process and ground testing and will begin flight experiments within the next two months, officials said. One of the A-160s will be deployed to a combat zone, most likely Afghanistan, during the second quarter of fiscal year 2012. Others will follow.

The aircraft were provided by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and U.S. Special Operations Command.

The QRC will help the Army define its VTOL requirements for the long haul.

“The intent is to get near fixed-wing performance out of a vertical lift platform,” said Tim Owings, the Army’s deputy project manager for unmanned systems. The impending RFI “will document in detail what we’re looking for.”

For starters, the Army would like a system that can fly for more than 12 hours and carry about 1,000 pounds of sensor weight, he said.

After receiving input from industry, the Army plans to support a Navy VTOL effort and will determine whether to pursue a joint-service program or continue to go it alone, Owings said.

Army officials plan to compete two QRCs against each other, sending them to theater for a year before entering the acquisition process and eventually settling on a single vendor. This strategy is awaiting approval from the office of the defense secretary, Owings said.

The idea that the Army needs a new unmanned aircraft has not been universally embraced within the service. In April, Col. Robert Sova, capability manager for unmanned air systems at the Army Training and Doctrine Command, suggested that the acquisition of an unmanned VTOL may not be in the best interest of the service.

It “is a great capability … but we can’t have everything we need,” Sova said at an industry conference. “We have to be careful and cognizant of what it would cost. Where does it fit into our overall aviation strategy? Does it fit?”

Sova said an unmanned VTOL would be useful when the Army has to deploy or drop cargo in areas without runways. He pointed out that a vertical lift  drone’s endurance currently could not match that of a fixed-wing aircraft.

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