On April 11, the Pentagon announced the following correction to the April 6 contract on which this article is based:
CORRECTION: The $3,600,000,000 contract to URS Federal Services Inc. (FA8240-17-D-4651) that was announced on April 6, 2017, had the wrong contract type and statement of work. The contract type is actually a cost-plus-award-fee, indefinite-delivery requirements contract.
The statement of work is range support services and not remotely piloted aircraft services as stated in the announcement. All other contract information is accurate.
Consequently, the article below, which is entirely based on the original announcement, is pointless.
In June 2016, The War Zone’s own Tyler Rogoway wrote an extensive and thought-provoking analysis of why the U.S. Air Force either had yet to show off a fleet of advanced, combat-capable unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV), or didn’t have any at all. It’s a long but worthwhile read, especially since the service has just announced a massive and shadowy drone-related contract for work out in the Nevada desert.
On April 6, 2017, as part of the Pentagon’s daily announcement of any contract awards worth over $7 million, the Air Force revealed a deal with URS Federal Services, Inc. for nearly two decades of work regarding unmanned aircraft. The official details are unusual, so feel free to read them yourself:
URS Federal Services, Inc., Germantown, Maryland, has been awarded an estimated $3,600,000,000 indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract with award fee and award term portions for remotely piloted aircraft services.
Contractor will provide testing, tactics development, advanced training, Joint and Air Force urgent operational need missions.
Work will be performed at Nevada Test and Training Range, Nevada; Creech Air Force Base, Nevada; and Tonopah Test Range Airfield, Nevada, and is expected to be complete by March 31, 2034.
This award is the result of a competitive acquisition with four offers received. Fiscal 2017 operations and maintenance funds in the amount of $2,875,894 are being obligated at the time of award.
Air Force Test Center, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is the contracting activity. (FA8240-17-D-4651).
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s start right at the top. This contract with URS Federal Services is worth $3.6 billion, but the program, whatever it is, isn’t expected to end until the spring of 2034. That’s 17 years for those keeping score. The math works out to more than $210 million per year, on average, over that period or $17.5 million every month.
That's a big price tag for services. In 2013, the RAND Corporation estimated that it cost $435 million a year for the Air Force's 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina to operate three squadrons of F-16C/D Vipers. This calculation included everything associated with flying the fighter jets, such as pay checks for military personnel and supporting contractors, fuel, depot-level repairs, as well as indirect support from the Wing's other elements, including security forces guarding the flight line, civil engineers maintaining facilities, and basic utilities and supplies, such as electricity in the barracks and food in the chow halls. A similar analysis of the 187th Fighter Wing, a unit in the Alabama Air National Guard with just one squadron of Vipers, produced a final price tag of just $63.6 million.
In short, the URS Federal Services' contract could potentially cover the full costs of running multiple squadrons of pilotless planes for nearly two decades. And remember that this deal likely only pays for just a portion of the total cost of this project. So, while we don't know what unmanned aircraft—singular or plural—the Maryland-based company will be helping test, the money involved here suggests there are quite a few of them. Of course, none of this is surprising. The Air Force and defense contractors both repeated hint at the existence of multiple top secret "black" military air and space projects.
"We're modernizing the Air Force, so you'll see in the future new aircraft here on the ramps," then Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said during a visit to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada in September 2016. "Then there are other things you also won't see, because we like to have some surprises, also, for potential adversaries."
These comments were squarely in line with the Pentagon's much-touted Third Offset Strategy, a high-technology master plan to push development of revolutionary weapons and associated systems to counter rapidly modernizing near peers. On top of that, the idea has been to produce solutions to future threats that don't necessarily require a lot of manpower or developmental funding. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the Drive.com website.
-- April 12: added Pentagon's correction to top of page.