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Blue Devil

The Blue Devil system is an event-driven wide-area surveillance and high definition camera, coupled with signal intelligence (SIGINT) cueing for tracking individuals and alerting blue forces for immediate action. The system was developed in 2 blocks, with Block I (Block 1) being mounted on a Beechcraft C90 fixed-wing aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles and Block II (Block 2) being mounted on an aerostat built by Mav6.

The Blue Devil Block I system was developed in response surge efforts in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan, which began in 2009. The Department of Defense's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) funded 2 Block I systems at a cost of $86 million. The Blue Devil Block I system demonstrated the first-ever integration of wide area field-of-view and narrow field-of-view high definition day and night sensors cued by advanced signals intelligence sensors. These sensors were carried on a contractor-operated Beechcraft C90 aircraft. Imagery was then transmitted in near-real-time to a Blue Devil ground station or to individual soldiers on the ground. Blue Devil Block I satisfied a number of US Central Command (CENTCOM) Joint Urgent Operational Needs. Between the system's initial deployment in December 2010 and 2012, Blue Devil Block I was been instrumental in identifying a number of high value individuals and improvised explosive device emplacements.

Blue Devil II airship development began in FY10 using Army Rapid Equipping Force funds. In November 2010, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in a memo to a congressional defense committee that the Blue Devil Block II aerostat was urgently needed and represented a solution to a combat capability gap that had resulted in fatalities. On 17 August 2011, the Department of Defense announced that L-3 Communications Integrated Systems of Greenville, Texas was being awarded a $12,054,022 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to provide integration and test support for Blue Devil 2 airship. AESG/WIJK at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio was the contracting activity (FA8620-06-G-4003 1157).

By November 2011, the management of the Block II portion of the system had been passed to the US Air Force, where it was managed by Big Safari (645th Aeronautical Systems Group). JIEDDO continued to provide support for the program as well. The US Air Force restructured the program requirements, greatly expanding the functions and equipment the aerostat would be expected to carry. In addition, the US Air Force required the Blue Devil Block II's prime contractor, Mav6, to acquire Federal Aviation Administration certification to allow the potential placement of a human operator aboard the aerostat. The Air Force intended Blue Devil II to be a technology and concept demonstration of multi-intelligence, cross-platform tipping and cueing of fused SIGINT, wide area and high-definition electro-optical/infra-red motion imagery on a persistent lighter-than-air airship. Blue Devil Block II would employ a payload integration infrastructure with a command and control and processing, exploitation, and dissemination ground station. Subsequent delays caused the proposed operational test in late 2011 to be cancelled. A flight test was scheduled for May-June 2012.

In addition, in FY12, the Air Force and DARPA had been working on a long endurance remotely-piloted aircraft, which would potentially allow days, months, or years of endurance, as well as their associated sensors and communications suites. In FY12, Congress had transferred $58.6 million from JIEDDO in support of this effort, which was to offer a potential replacement for the Beechcraft C90s used in for the Blue Devil Block I portion of the program.

The US Air Force's FY13 budget proposal included no request for funds for Blue Devil Block II. In FY13, Blue Devil Block I, however, was to continue to support CENTCOM with 4 sorties per day. Funds to procure high-endurance remotely piloted vehicles for Blue Devil Block I were decreased in FY13 due to higher Department of Defense priorities.

In May 2012, the US Air Force officially issued a stop work order to Mav6 regarding the Blue Devil Block II aerostat, after determining that the annual operating costs for the vehicle were too great. Mav6 responded with an offer to add an armed capability to the aerostat, which the US Air Force declined to investigate. Specific reference to the program was not made in the House or Senate versions of the proposed FY13 defense appropriation, which added funding back in for other programs the US Air Force had canceled, such as Global Hawk Block 30. Mav6 was also reportedly looking to see if either the US Army or US Navy might have sufficient interest to save the program.

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Page last modified: 29-06-2012 13:18:27 ZULU