WASHINGTON — By the end of this fiscal year, one company could rake in a contract worth up to $490 million to provide the U.S. Air Force with technologies to counter the threat of small, commercially made drones.

On April 13, the Air Force released a request for proposals for the “rapid research, development, prototyping, demonstration, evaluation, and transition” of technologies that can be used to counter small unmanned aerial systems.

Responses to the solicitation are due May 14. The service plans to award a contract worth up to $490 million to a single vendor that can team with other companies to provide various counter-drone products. The period of performance for the contract is 72 months.

According to the solicitation, the Air Force is seeking a wide range of technologies that can be used to address the unique requirements of users, which may face differing threats based on geographic region or other factors. The service hopes to test out prototypes of various solutions and buy “limited product quantities” while it introduces the technologies.

The Air Force didn’t lay out exactly what technological solutions it wanted to purchase in its public solicitation, and the service did not provide further information to Defense News on the subject before press time.

However, a December 2019 PowerPoint presentation created by the Air Force Research Laboratory pointed to cyber and electronic warfare technologies, directed-energy weapons like lasers and microwave devices, and “interceptors” that kill a target through kinetic force as potential options.

In the Middle East, equipping commercial off-the-shelf drones with weapons has become a cheap and effective way for Iranian-backed Houthi forces to attack Saudi Arabian forces and civilians, as well as partner forces like the U.S. military that are supporting Saudi Arabia’s defense, said U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Kenneth McKenzie.

“For the first time since the Korean War, we are operating without complete air superiority,” he stated in written testimony to lawmakers on April 20.. “As a result, USCENTCOM has made the counter-UAS effort one of its top priorities, and employs a variety of systems and tactics to defeat these threats. Until we are able to develop and field a networked capability to detect and defeat UAS, the advantage will remain with the attacker.

In fiscal 2020, the Air Force fielded counter-drone technologies to meet three urgent requirements and delivered other new capabilities to 14 installations, the service said in its biennial acquisition report.

“In FY21 and FY22, the [counter-small UAS] program will focus on fielding an initial operational capability to 30 high-priority sites to protect critical assets and infrastructure,” it said. “The program will also support fielded urgent needs and integrate with additional systems such as counter rockets, artillery and mortars (C-RAM) and forward area air defense command and control (FAAD-C2).”

Last August, SRC Inc. won a $90 million contract for unspecified counter-drone systems. It also includes the costs of sustaining the company’s Multi-Environmental Domain Unmanned Systems Application, a command and control platform that was used by Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates to link its counter-UAS technologies on the same network.

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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