The Navy has made its biggest investment yet in the field of robotic aircraft. The seafaring force of the United States military has placed a $1.16 billion dollar order with Northrop Grumman to develop the BAMS (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance) aircraft, an unmanned drone. Northrop Grumman will construct the BAMS fleet from the design of its Global Hawk drone craft but it’s expected that the BAMS aircraft will be larger than the Hawks. The cost of each BAMS drone will be $55 million including the price of the communications module for ground personnel.
The BAMS will step in to partially replace the Navy’s P-3 Orion aircraft fleet which have served the force for decades. Orions have been used primarily to monitor the airspace above oceans and were used extensively during the Cold War to monitor the positions of Russian ships and submarines. When the Orions are retired they will be replaced by a new manned aircraft, the P-8 Poseidon, and the BAMS will be used to provide support and both cost less to manufacturer and maintain than a Poseidon.
This initial order will provide the Navy with approximately 44 robot BAMS (which make up five squadrons) drone by approximately 2014. When they are operational the drones will be able to remain in the air for up to 24 hours, be able to perform surveillance from high and low altitudes over a 2,000 mile radius and be smart enough to conduct battle-damage assessments should it be damaged in combat.
Other countries have been awaiting the Navy’s decision. Already Australia has invested $15 million into R&D of the BAMS aircraft and they are expected to buy some units of the next gen drone shortly. Canada, Japan, Singapore and the United Kingdom have also expressed interest in purchasing their own BAMS fleets.