"There are those that see JSF as the last manned fighter. I'm one that's inclined to believe that."
-- Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff
Thanks for the introduction, Admiral, and welcome back, Fools, to the lucky seventh installment of our continuing series covering the rise of the machines.
As the chairman suggested, Lockheed Martin
The U.S. Marine Corps Wants YOU!
... to come up with a better way to resupply troops in the field. In April, the USMC solicited bids for a system to resupply field units with unmanned aerial vehicles, and the military industrial complex swiftly answered the call.
Rolling with the punches, Lockheed proposed supplying Marines with use of an unmanned K-Max helicopter called the Burro+. (Not to be confused with Lockheed's four-wheeled beast of burden, the MULE.) Northrop Grumman
The buzz about Boeing
As you may recall, SOCOM tapped the Hummingbird last month to fulfill a requirement for 20 unmanned "strike and surveillance aircraft" needed between FY 2012 to FY 2017. But while the Special Ops guys want to turn the Hummingbird into a first-person shooter, it seems the Hummingbird has no objection to hauling freight, too. Hearing the Marines needed an airborne mule, Boeing was happy to oblige.
Now there is a hitch. According to the Marines' solicitation, they're looking for UAVs capable of lifting 20,000 pounds. of supplies and carrying them on a 150-mile round trip. And they want these choppers chop-chop. Ideally, the new birds should be ready to deploy by February.
This could be a problem, because while it's certainly pretty, the Hummingbird's also a bit of a lightweight. The 35-foot-long unmanned helicopter can hover at 20,000 feet and cruise at more than 140 knots. It’s already proven its excellent endurance by completing a flight that lasted over 18 hours. But its payload is just 2,500 pounds. (Perhaps the Marines can buy them by the dozen?)
We're going to the show!
Now let's shift our focus from robo-copters to model airplanes. In a true Bull Durham moment, Elbit Systems
Now, you may ask, what spurred this decision to team up in the first place? The press release says it all: "UAS Dynamics is an American company ... " And as such, UAS Dynamics won't be a victim of "Buy American" bias when defense contracts are doled out. (To the contrary, now Elbit's on the inside, looking out.)
Thus, in this marriage of unequals, it appears the General primarily brings an "in" with Congress and the Pentagon to the table. Elbit's contribution will be more substantial: two successful UAV models -- Hermes and Skylark. Hermes in particular has seen action recently in Sudan and Georgia, and received wide praise for its performance in both theaters.
Look, up in the sky! (Um, I don't see anything.)
Before we close, I want to take one last look back at Boeing. In May, Boeing announced it's developing a prototype UAV that's as big as a jet fighter (remember the Admiral's comment above?).
Dubbed the "Phantom Ray," the project evokes invisibility, and for good reason: Boeing doesn't ... actually ... have a Phantom Ray yet. But stay tuned for progress reports. From artists' renderings of how the Phantom Ray is supposed to look, it appears to borrow from Raytheon's
Now, we started today's column with a defense quote. To highlight the importance of investing in firms that identify popular trends and claim their fair share early, let's end with another quote:
"This is one of the significant growth areas in the budget ... We are really placing a major bet in this area."
-- Defense Secretary Robert Gates