Air Platforms

DoD to complete development on UAV sense-and-avoid systems by FY 2017

06 February 2014
The US Army expects to field GBSAA systems for its Gray Eagle UAV within a year. Source: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems

Key Points

  • The army has spent some USD100 million on GBSAA
  • The USAF and USN have spent nearly USD250 million on ABSAA

The US Department of Defense (DoD) expects to overcome one of the most significant technical obstacles to using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in national air space-development of reliable sense-and-avoid (SAA) systems-over the next two to three years, according to a new report to Congress.

The US Marine Corps (USMC) currently has a DoD-approved ground-based sense-and-avoid (GBSAA) system operating at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, according to the "Report to Congress on the progress of research aimed at integrating unmanned aircraft into national air space", dated December 2013 and signed by Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall.

IHS Jane's viewed a copy of the report, which was sent to Capitol Hill this month.

The DoD is working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on UAV national airspace integration issues. Developing common, reliable SAA systems is one of the DoD's most significant and costly tasks of the effort.

The DoD has divided its SAA activities into GBSAA and ABSAA (airborne sense-and-avoid). The US Army is leading the GBSAA effort, while the US Air Force (USAF) is overseeing development of a common ABSAA, with the US Navy (USN) contributing heavily to the latter.

The army has spent nearly USD100 million on GBSAA via its General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle programme, and the USMC has contributed another USD7 million, according to the report.

"A fully developed common GBSAA capability is scheduled to be in use in fiscal year 2014-2015 [FY 2014-15] when the army certifies and fields a system at five Gray Eagle operating locations", said the report.

To date, the USAF has spent nearly USD240 million on ABSAA, with nearly another USD100 million having been contributed by the USN-primarily via its Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton programme.

According to the report, development of a common ABSAA is to be completed by mid-FY 2016, and "the navy is committed to developing an ABSAA for [Triton] by…FY 2017", its scheduled deployment date.

COMMENT

The FAA announced on 30 December the selection of six new US sites to develop and test the integration of unmanned aircraft into domestic airspace.

US lawmakers ordered the FAA to name the six test sites as part of a broader goal to integrate UAVs with commercial aircraft in domestic US airspace by 2015, but the likelihood that this deadline can be met has been questioned by many experts.

Even if technical hurdles such as SAA are overcome, however, privacy and safety concerns over the use of UAVs in domestic air space are likely to persist for some years. Today the FAA limits the use of UAVs to police forces and model aircraft hobbyists.



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