The U.S. Department of Defense announced a total of 21, mostly smallish, new contracts Monday, worth a combined value of $350.8 million. Most notable among a mass of disparate awards for cargo transportation, bridge-building, and "basic life support," though, was a series of four nearly identical, $15 million contracts for work on a new type of unmanned aerial vehicle.

The U.S. Navy awarded the four contracts to defense contractors Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC), Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT), Boeing (NYSE:BA), and privately held General Atomics, maker of the Predator drone. Each of these companies won a separate $15 million firm-fixed-price contract to prepare a design of a new Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) Air Vehicle for "preliminary design review assessment."

As the Pentagon explained in its announcements, "the objective of the UCLASS system is to enhance aircraft carrier/air wing operations by providing a responsive, worldwide presence via an organic, sea-based Unmanned Aerial System, with persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting, and strike capabilities." In other words, what the Pentagon is looking for is a carrier-based, carrier-landing, armed robotic warplane. All four contracts are due for completion in June 2014.

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