DOD Developing Small, Unmanned Aerial System for Warfighters
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued Aug. 20, 2020)
The Skydio is one of five small unmanned aerial systems that are being made available to provide trusted and secure sUAS options to the military and U.S. government agencies under the Blue sUAS initiative. (DoD photo)
For the first time, the Defense Department and the entire federal government will have access to secure, trusted, and American-made commercial drones on the General Service Administration schedule, Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Kratsios announced at a virtual event hosted by the Defense Innovation Unit.
This new DIU initiative, dubbed Blue sUAS, is the culmination of 18 months of work by the Army and DIU to tailor the best technology from U.S. and allied companies to develop small unmanned aircraft systems that can be safely adopted by men and women in uniform. During the Aug. 18 DIU event, Kratsios said it also has important impacts for the nation's broader economic and national security.
"UAS technologies have incredible promise and potential to not only provide great economic benefit for the American people, but also to enhance safety and security for our nation. We need a strong, secure domestic UAS manufacturing base to ensure American leadership in this critical field," he said. "Blue sUAS represents a tremendous first step toward building a robust and trusted UAS domestic industrial base that ensures sustained delivery of highly-capable, secure UAS to the warfighters that depend on it."
DOD recognizes the growing value and capabilities of sUAS, from providing on-demand intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities in contested battle spaces, to routine monitoring of critical infrastructure, to transporting products, he said. However, until now, the Department was not able to adopt these systems safely due to security and supply chain concerns posed by Chinese-made sUAS, he added.
Through the work of Blue sUAS, five U.S.-manufactured drone configurations will be made available to provide trusted and secure sUAS options to the military and U.S. government.
Blue sUAS also showcases how DOD partners with industry and allies to quickly pilot and scale cutting-edge technologies across the joint force and the other federal agencies.
Haven Wynne, General Services Administration supply chain management branch chief and program manager, said GSA is drawing up a 20-year contract, to include five-year options. He noted that the contract allows for the growth of additional accessories to be added to the platforms at a later time if required.
"Blue sUAS is a great example of DOD acquisition reform by lowering the barrier to entry for nontraditional companies to rapidly iterate shoulder to shoulder with warfighters to deliver highly capable sUAS tailored to mission needs," Ellen M. Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said at DIU's virtual event.
Chris O’Donnell, deputy assistant secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, platform and weapon portfolio manager, said that warfighter experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated the importance of small UASs to warfighters on the battlefield.
DOD awarded $13.4 million to five companies to begin producing sUASs beginning next month: Vantage Robotics, Skydio, Parrot, Teal and Altavian.
According to DIU's website, the sUASs will have a range of at least 3 kilometers, 30 minutes or more flying time, the ability to fly through rain and dust, assembly time of two minutes or less, a weight of under 3 pounds on takeoff, high-resolution day and night optics, thermal imaging, open source protocol architecture, and simple integration with ground controllers.
Defense Innovation Unit Announces sUAS Product Availability
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued Aug. 20, 2020)
The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), a Department of Defense (DOD) organization that accelerates commercial technology for national defense, announced the availability of five U.S.-manufactured drone configurations to provide trusted, secure small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) options to the U.S. Government.
The announcement is the culmination of an 18-month effort with DIU’s initial work supporting the U.S. Army’s Short Range Reconnaissance (SRR) program of record for sUAS. The SRR program is developing an inexpensive, rucksack-portable, vertical take-off and landing small unmanned aircraft that provides the small unit with a rapidly-deployed situational awareness tool.
Small drones have been widely available in consumer markets since the early 2010s and have notably been adopted by foreign military forces and non-state actors alike as inexpensive tools to gain a bird’s-eye view of the battlefield. However, until now, the DOD has not had the opportunity to adopt these systems safely. Recognizing the demand signal across the federal government for trusted and secure sUAS, DIU took the lead in developing systems that are broadly applicable to an array of users and mission sets. Coined Blue sUAS, this spinoff effort builds upon the Army’s initial success and offers sUAS that mirror the air vehicle and software architecture of SRR, but provides alternative ground controller and radio configurations to accommodate a variety of users across the federal government.
“Blue sUAS represents a tremendous first step toward building a robust and trusted UAS domestic industrial base that ensures sustained delivery of highly-capable, secure UAS to the warfighters that depend on it,” said Michael Kratsios, acting under secretary of defense for research and engineering.
He added, “Blue sUAS showcases how we can both work with small, nontraditional companies and our allies and partners to quickly pilot cutting-edge technologies that support our mutual defense.”
Both SRR and Blue sUAS comply with Section 848 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 that prohibits operating or procuring unmanned aircraft systems manufactured in China. The five companies whose products will be made available for purchase on the GSA schedule by September 2020 include Altavian, Parrot, Skydio, Teal, and Vantage Robotics.
To this aim, the drones will be made available on the GSA schedule starting in September 2020 to ensure ease of procurement and to ensure availability government-wide. DOD entities can also pursue a production contract via Other Transaction Authority, leveraging the scaling option of DIU’s Commercial Solution Opening.
Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, added: “Blue sUAS is a great example of DOD acquisition reform by lowering the barrier to entry for non-traditional companies to rapidly iterate shoulder to shoulder with warfighters to deliver highly-capable sUAS tailored to mission needs.”
DIU seeks to build upon the success of the Blue sUAS effort by leveraging best in class commercial innovation on a regular cadence that ensures sustained technological dominance against our nation’s adversaries.
“We need an alternative to Chinese-made small drones and Blue sUAS is a first step in achieving that objective.” said Mike Brown, director of the Defense Innovation Unit. “Working across DOD and the U.S. government aggregates the business opportunity for these five vendors and enhances the long-term viability of this capability for the U.S. and our allies.”
The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) was started in August 2015 to rebuild the department’s relationship with the commercial technology sector. As one of the first “experimental” innovation organizations, DIU connects its DoD partners with leading commercial technology companies. DIU is the only DOD organization focused exclusively on fielding and scaling commercial technology across the U.S. military at commercial speeds. DIU is primarily focused on five technology areas where the commercial sector is operating at the leading edge: AI, autonomy, cyber, human systems, and space.