The US Navy (USN) on 29 September 2017 awarded AeroVironment a contract award for the continuation and expansion of its BLACKWING small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) programme. The contract includes orders for multiple BLACKWING vehicles, sensor payloads and refurbishment kits for a total value of $2,578,822. The initial set of vehicles are anticipated for delivery by May 2018, and final delivery anticipated by November 2018.

BLACKWING is a small, tube-launched unmanned aircraft that employs an advanced, miniature electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) payload, integrated inertial/ GPS autopilot system and secure Digital Data Link (DDL), all packaged into a vehicle that launches from under the surface of the sea, from manned submarines and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV).

Since first being deployed just a few months ago,BLACKWING has delivered valuable new capabilities to US naval undersea warfare units,” Kirk Flittie, AeroVironment Vice President and General Manager of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, said. “This contract is consistent with the Navy’s plans to resupply existing vessels and equip additional submarines with the BLACKWING capability.”

BLACKWING builds on AeroVironment’s extensive operational experience with small UAS and its SWITCHBLADE Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System (LMAMS) to provide the Navy with a low-cost, submarine-launched UAS optimised for denied environments. AeroVironment developed the BLACKWING system as part of a 2013 Navy and United States Pacific Command (PACOM) sponsored Joint Capabilities Technology Demonstration (JCTD) called Advanced Weapons Enhanced by Submarine UAS against Mobile targets (AWESUM). This JCTD was completed in September 2015 with a strong recommendation to transition the capability into the fleet.

BLACKWING can also be integrated with and deployed from a wide variety of surface vessels and mobile ground vehicles to provide rapid response reconnaissance capabilities to help warfighters proceed with certainty, even in the most challenging settings, helping to ensure safe and successful missions,” Mr. Flittie continued. “AeroVironment’s small UAS – including RAVEN, PUMA AE and WASP AE, as well as SWITCHBLADE loitering missile and its variants – continue proving their life-saving value with U.S. forces and increasingly with our allies around the world as our international footprint grows. We now count more than 40 countries outside of the US as customers for our family of small UAS.” 

The Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Division Newport (NUWCDIVNPT) awarded this contract to AeroVironment, the manufacturer of the BLACKWING UAS, on a sole source basis in accordance with Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) guidelines. 



BLACKWING is stored in a three inch tube, and uses existing systems submarines use for acoustic countermeasures. (Images: Aerovironment)

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