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STUAS-Tier II Unmanned Aircraft System - Lost at Sea?

As if the Pentagon needed another example of an acquisition program running aground, the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) informed industry that the initial operational capability (IOC) of the Small Tactical Unmanned Air System/Tier II program will slip a year to 2012.  

As the Marines’ Tier II program was originally conceived six years ago, the Marines alone were to receive a new and far more capable tactical UAS to replace their ancient Pioneer system.  Then, two years ago, in what has become a commonplace occurrence in Naval Aviation for Marine acquisition programs which are always at the mercy of ASN/RDA and OPNAV N-8 budgeteers, Navy officials decided to combine the Marines’ well documented and defined program with a shipboard-capable UAS program that Navy officers were only then in the early stages of proposing potential employment concepts. 

Unfortunately, the continuing spectacle of Navy surface line officers trying to nail down UAS requirements has begun to look like an episode of “House” without the possibility of a happy ending.

As described in Aviation Week and in other industry media, NAVAIR has been trying for years to release an RFI for the STUAS/Tier II program but Navy surface ship requirements officers are having as much trouble determining what they want their new UAS to do for them as they are having trouble even determining what ships will be in the fleet. 

Meanwhile, officials at HQMC and the Marine Corps Systems Command at Quantico have been trying since 2005 to bring the Tier II UAS online to answer urgent operational needs statements on UAS support from CENTCOM.  

Congress has gotten wind of this programmatic travesty, too, but Navy officials have so far kept the denizens of the Hill at bay.  But as time passes, the Marines, aviators and grunts alike, are becoming more and more disgusted with the Navy Surface Warriors who can’t seem to understand that while they dither, Marines die. 

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