The $8 million contract announced Thursday will pay for one system, which includes six air vehicles, ground data terminals and ground control stations, according to the Army. The system will go to a single brigade combat team.
“Based upon the results of testing, Army leadership may decide to procure and field up to seven additional [Increment 1] systems,” the service said in a statement.
This initial purchase is meant to inform requirements for a second program increment, which will rely on “a separate competitive acquisition,” the statement noted.
In 2018, the Army began considering requirements for a replacement for the Textron-made Shadow drone. This unmanned system is widely used, but is one of the most accident-prone unmanned aerial systems in the service’s inventory. The Shadow is also difficult to deploy and has a loud engine, which allows for easy detection.
In 2019, the service narrowed the pool to two competitors: Martin UAV and a team of Northrop Grumman and Textron’s AAI. Martin UAV supplied its V-Bat system, while the team offered Textron’s Aerosonde HQ.
Shortly after, the Army added two more aircraft for evaluation: Arcturus UAV’s Jump 20 system and L3Harris Technologies’ FVR-90.
For about a year, operational units evaluated the four different tactical drones, culminating in a rodeo in spring 2021 at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Last year, AeroVironment acquired Arcturus for $405 million.
“AeroVironment met performance requirements while offering high technology and manufacturing readiness levels, thereby reducing the need for additional development,” the service said in Thursday’s statement.
AeroVironment declined to comment for this story.
Already, the Army is preparing for the second increment of the program. Nearly a year ago, it released a request for whitepapers for this next part of the competition.
Martin UAV, which was acquired by Shield AI, said it plans to submit a new and improved V-Bat that was unavailable at the time of the previous soldier evaluation process.
Volansi and Sierra Nevada Corp. also said earlier this year they plan to compete for the second increment.
Maj. Gen. Wally Rugen, who oversees the Army’s future vertical lift modernization efforts, said at the 2021 rodeo he wants the service to get a revolutionary, not evolutionary, new tactical UAS capability that isn’t tied to a runway, has a lower acoustic signature and has far lower equipment requirements to transport the system.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.