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State Department seeks a global drone fleet

The State Department wants to acquire its own fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles to help protect diplomats posted to Iraq and other dangerous countries and in March, issued a request for proposals for contractors to provide the aircraft, crew and support on a turnkey basis.

State already operates UAVs over Iraq to help provide protection for the 2,000 diplomats and 14,000 contractors at the $750 million 440,000-square-foot embassy, The New York Times reported in January.

The procurement released last month and updated Monday marks the start of a project to provide the department with UAV assets that could be deployed anywhere in the world. State did not say how many aircraft it eventually planned to deploy.

In its 2011 annual report, State's Diplomatic Security Bureau said it tested UAVs in December 2010 in cooperation with the Defense Department and planned to deploy them to Iraq in 2011.

The mission of the UAV program is to provide real-time air surveillance of fixed installations and the ground routes that diplomats travel "thereby improving security in high-threat environments," State said. The UAVs will help identify operational problems and potential threats, the department noted in the performance work statement.

State intends to acquire two types of aircraft in conformance with standards established by the Air Force. It wants to operate Tier I hand-launched UAVs such as the Gnat-750, manufactured by General Atomics, which can operate at altitudes of 500 to 2,000 feet and at speeds up to 40 miles per hour. These aircraft should be equipped with video and heat sensors that downlink still and streaming video and use built-in GPS navigation with a range of 250 miles.

The RFP also calls for contractors to supply Tier II and Tier II UAVs and aircraft such as the General Atomics predator, which can fly as high as 18,000 feet and has a range of 250 miles. The original RFP sought aircraft with a range of 900 miles. Tier II UAVs must also be able to downlink still and streaming video and use GPS navigation.

In addition, the winning bidder should provide pilots, analysts and navigators, global logistics support, and deploy the UAVs on a task-order basis, State said.

The State UAV project has attracted 62 interested bidders, including manufacturers such as General Atomics and a number of aerospace companies, as well as systems integrators such as Computer Sciences Corp., General Dynamics Information Technology, L-3 Communications and Lockheed Martin Corp. Bids are due April 23.

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