In January 1998 a team led by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) has been awarded a contract by the US Navy's Joint Program Office for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to conduct a demonstration of SAIC's Vigilante vertical take-off and land (VTOL) unmanned air vehicle (UAV). The potential value of the contract is an estimated $4.8 million, which includes $1.8 million for the base period and an additional $3 million in possible options. SAIC's Vigilante UAV System is a developmental system and has not been operationally deployed.
Unique to the Vigilante is that it is optionally piloted from within the craft, or it can be controlled from a ground station. It is set-up to be flown in three modes Manned, External Pilot (AKA R/C), Intelligent autopilot and mission control system.
SAIC's Vigilante is based on a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) 2-seat experimental helicopter kit designed to be built and operated by recreational pilots. The first Vigilante, based on the 496 model, was started in April 1997 for the Ballistic Missile Development Organization (BMDO) and the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) to provide a stable, unmanned platform for an optical camera to monitor antiballistic missile tests.
The Vigilante needs only about 20 feet in diameter to execute its vertical take-off and landing. This means that the Vigilante can be transported on and deployed from frigates and other Navy ships which are likely to reach the battlespace before aircraft carriers. As a result, the Vigilante will be able to supplement the mission of the Navy's jet fighters by providing early reconnaissance and payload capabilities quickly and cheaply.
As modified for the Navy's use, the Vigilante will carry enough fuel to allow it to operate for up to 16 hours. Its imagery payload, the Wescam 12DS, has an infrared imaging sensor and a daylight color television camera. This same payload is being purchased by the US Marine Corps for its Pioneer UAV. Imagery will be transmitted to the surface at full rate using a C-band analog datalink. An additional datalink will support system command and control. The Vigilante's flight control system, however, is capable of fully autonomous (no human-in-the-loop) take-off, flight navigation, and landing.
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