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    HomeMilitaryPentagon Taps Four Firms for High-Stakes Modular Drone Prototyping

    Pentagon Taps Four Firms for High-Stakes Modular Drone Prototyping

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    The Defense Department has chosen four companies to develop prototypes for a modular drone capable of testing payloads, sensors, and other technologies, while being affordable and scalable for mass production.

    Anduril Industries, Integrated Solutions for Systems Inc., Leidos Dynetics, and Zone 5 Technologies were selected to create these prototypes for the Enterprise Test Vehicle (ETV) project, according to an announcement by the Air Force Armament Directorate and Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) on Monday. The project saw over 100 applications from various firms.

    The initial flight demonstration of the prototypes is expected by late summer or fall, as stated by DIU and the Air Force.

    Following these demonstrations, at least one promising prototype will be chosen for further development into a version that can be rapidly scaled up for production.

    Andrew Hunter, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics, expressed enthusiasm about the collaboration with DIU.

    “The ETV presents an opportunity to leverage promising ideas from industry to create and refine affordable designs for test capabilities that can be produced on a relevant timeline,” Hunter said in a release.

    Cassie Johnson, the ETV program manager for the Air Force Armament Directorate, emphasized the importance of engaging non-traditional aerospace firms to meet the program’s cost, timeline, and production targets.

    The ETV is designed with an open systems architecture, allowing for modular subsystem updates to test the integration and functionality of new components.

    According to a September 2023 solicitation from DIU, the system is required to have a range of 500 nautical miles (926 kilometers) and the capability to deliver a kinetic payload.

    DIU and the Air Force emphasized the need for vendors to minimize the use of expensive materials, opting instead for commercial off-the-shelf components to reduce costs and maintain supply chain efficiency.

    Additionally, the ETV vendors must avoid “over-engineering” the drones, utilizing modern manufacturing and design techniques to enable high-rate production, which would be unfeasible with more complex designs. DIU and the Air Force stated that the ETV will be deployable in large numbers using various launch methods to create significant challenges for any defending adversary.

    It is expected to play a role in the Pentagon’s ambitious Replicator program, with collaboration from the Air Force Research Laboratory, U.S. Special Operations Command, Naval Air Systems Command, and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

    Jason Levin, senior vice president of Anduril’s air dominance and strike division, highlighted that their ETV solution, like all Anduril products, aims to deliver capabilities within years, not decades, addressing critical capability gaps promptly and enabling on-demand large-scale manufacturing for affordable mass production.

    Mark Miller, senior vice president for missile and aviation systems at Leidos Dynetics, stated in an email to Defense News that their proposed aircraft will be a “compelling offer” for the ETV project, merging their strike systems expertise with their experience in developing the X-61 Gremlins drone.

    Kyle Maxhimer, president of Zone 5, mentioned that their work on ETV will advance technologies like unmanned aerial systems.

    Relevant articles:
    DIU, Air Force pick four firms to prototype modular testing drone, Defense News
    Air Force, DIU pick 4 companies to compete for drone test vehicle, Breaking Defense
    DIU Awards Contracts To Provide Drag Reduction Tech for Legacy Aircraft, Defense Innovation Unit (.mil)
    UAS solutions for the U.S. DoD., Defense Innovation Unit (.mil)

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