Company Spotlight – Boeing
Among companies leading the way in the unmanned systems space, Boeing – through its Defense, Space, and Security segment – is at the forefront. Over the last decade, Boeing has built out an impressive array of platforms through a combination of strategic acquisitions and in-house research & development.
What follows is an overview of each of the platforms Boeing manufactures, an overview of its UAV-related acquisitions, and a discussion of its place in the industry.
ScanEagle needs no airfield for deployment. Instead, it is launched using Insitu’s patented pneumatic “SuperWedge” launcher. It is recovered using the “SkyHook” retrieval system, which uses a hook on the end of the wingtip to catch a rope hanging from a 30 to 50-foot pole.
It has been in service with the US Navy since 2005 and has played a major role in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since its inception, it has accumulated over 500,000 hours of in-combat flight. A video of a ScanEagle being launched is below.
Integrator: Built by Insitu, Integrator is an evolution of the ScanEagle UAV. Like the ScanEagle, it is a cost-effective, runway-independent modular system.
It utilizes a multi-function ball turret which lets the user choose and change sensors during a mission. Cross-queued data keeps eyes on a chosen target. Associated common ground support equipment supports mixed-fleet operations and mission-adaptability.
One Integrator variant is known as the Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (STUAS). It will be used by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to provide persistent maritime and land-based tactical Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (RSTA) data collection and dissemination capabilities to the warfighter.
In July 2010, NAVAIR selected the Insitu Integrator and awarded Boeing the STUAS/Tier II contract - a contract worth ~$44 million over the first two years to support low-rate initial production of two systems, one each for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. Starting in 2013, follow-on orders valued at up to ~$450 million call for an initial fielding of 56 STUAS systems. The Integrator is a current Program of Record.
A160 Hummingbird: The A160 Hummingbird long-endurance helicopter UAV is capable of carrying out persistent ISR, target acquisition, communications relay, and precision resupply missions. It can reach higher altitudes, hover for longer periods of time, go greater distances and operate much more quietly than current manned helicopter platforms.
Boeing acquired the A160 Hummingbird UAV when it acquired Frontier Systems, Inc. in May 2004. Boeing’s own Phantom Works division is developing the A160 under a contract with DARPA. It is designed to fly 2,500 nautical miles with endurance in excess of 24 hours and a payload of more than 300 pounds. The autonomously-flown A160 is 35 feet long with a 36-foot rotor diameter. It will fly at an estimated top speed of 140 knots at ceilings up to 30,000 feet, which is about 10,000 feet higher than conventional helicopters can fly today.
Phantom Ray: Phantom Ray was designed and developed by Boeing’s Phantom Works division based on a prototype the company had originally created for the DARPA/US Air Force/US Navy Joint-Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) program. Phantom Ray was developed using a rapid-prototyping approach and was 100% financed with company funds. It is fighter-sized, with a 50 foot wingspan and 36 foot length.
The first run of the Phantom Ray took two years to develop and is seen as a test bed for advanced technologies and missions, including ISR; suppression of enemy air defenses; hunter/killer; electronic attack; and autonomous aerial refueling. The initial prototype was not made for a specific program or competition, but rather as a means of showcasing and developing Boeing’s industry-leading unmanned systems technology. It was unveiled on May 10, 2010, and has since made several test flights.
Boeing is anticipated to use a variation of its Phantom Ray prototype as part of its offering in the US Air Force’s upcoming Next-Generation Bomber competition. It is expected to enter a larger manned aircraft along with stealthy support UCAVs, based on the Phantom Ray. For more information on this, go here. Below is video of a Phantom Ray test flight.
Frontier Systems, Inc:
Boeing acquired Irvine, CA based Frontier Systems in May 2004 for an undisclosed amount. Founded in 1991, Frontier Systems developed and manufactured a number of UAV prototypes. Most notably, it developed the A160 Hummingbird, a platform still being manufactured by Boeing today.
Boeing acquired Bingen, WA based Insitu, Inc. in September 2008 for an undisclosed amount. Prior to being acquired by Boeing, Insitu had venture capital funding from Battery Ventures, Pteranodon Ventures, and Second Avenue Partners.
Insitu is responsible for the design, development, and manufacture of two of Boeing’s most important UAV platforms, the ScanEagle and Integrator. The ScanEagle has logged 500,000 hours of combat flight in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Integrator is a US military program of record. Most notably, the Integrator platform was key in Boeing winning the US Navy’s STUAS contract, valued at ~$500 million.
Insitu has been at the forefront of the small tactical UAV market and should continue to play a major role in the evolution of Boeing’s unmanned systems strategy. For more information on Insitu, visit their website.
Boeing has established itself as a leader in the unmanned systems industry. Through a combination of strategic acquisitions and in-house development, it has amassed an impressive array of platforms in various stages of the manufacturing life cycle.
In July 2009, one of Boeing’s major defense platforms, the F-22 Raptor, was cancelled by the US Congress, under the guidance of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who saw it as excessive and overly-expensive. Funding was shifted towards the F-35, a manned fighter jet manufactured by Lockheed Martin. It may now seem as though missing out on the F-22 and F-35 were blessings-in-disguise, as it has allowed Boeing to further focus its funding and R&D on unmanned systems, making it a leader in the space.
Sources: Boeing and Insitu websites and public documents, CapitalIQ, Wikipedia