All US government agencies will now have access to secure, trusted, US-manufactured commercial drones on the General Services Administration (GSA) schedule, the DoD announced on 18 August at a virtual event hosted by the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU).
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 US and allied companies to develop small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) that can be safely adopted by the services. During the DIU event, Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Michael Kratsios, said it also has significant impact on 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 […] 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 recognises the growing value and capabilities of sUAS, from providing on-demand ISR capabilities in contested battlespaces to routine monitoring of critical infrastructure or providing transport. To date, however, DoD has not been able to adopt these systems safely due to security and supply chain concerns posed by Chinese-made sUAS, Kratsios added. Through the work of Blue sUAS, five American-manufactured drone configurations will be made available to provide trusted and secure sUAS options to the military and US 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 other federal agencies. Haven Wynne, GSA supply chain management branch chief and programme manager, said the agency is drawing up a 20-year contract, to include five-year options. He noted 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 non-traditional 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, commented at the event. Chris O’Donnell, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, Platform and Weapon Portfolio Manager, added that warfighter experience in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated the importance of sUAS to troops on the battlefield.
DOD awarded $13.4 million (€11.3 million) to five companies to begin producing sUAS, beginning next month: Vantage Robotics, Skydio, Parrot, Teal and Altavian.
The DIU website specifies that the sUAS will feature a range of at least 3km, flying time of 30+mins, the ability to fly through rain and dust, assembly time under 2 mins, take-off weight less than 3lbs, high resolution day/night optics, thermal imaging, an open source protocol architecture and simple integration with ground controllers.