Home International News Boeing, years late and billions over budget, continues work on Orca drone

Boeing, years late and billions over budget, continues work on Orca drone

Boeing is expected to deliver Orca — a subway car-sized underwater drone intended to mine mines and perform other missions for the U.S. Navy — as much as three years later than planned.

As the Navy attempts to include unmanned ships in future fleets, budget documents indicate that the first of five operational Orca drones could be delivered in September 2023 rather than December 2020, “due to challenges with contractors and issues with suppliers.”

Boeing beat out aerospace rival Lockheed Martin for the project in February 2019. The fixed-price $274 million contract requires the company to absorb overruns above a certain threshold.

“The Navy is working with Boeing to mitigate schedule delays and implement risk mitigation” by paying for a prototype to be used for testing and training, the agency said. The test drone was christened on April 28 and began testing in the water.

Boeing’s ability to complete work on Pentagon contracts on time to promised specifications is under scrutiny after the company recorded more than $1.3 billion in expenses in the first quarter for cost overruns on defense contracts with a fixed price, including the new Air Force One, the Navy’s KC-46 tanker programs, and the Navy’s MQ-25 refueling drone.

Boeing has continued to invest in futuristic unmanned aerial and marine technologies as it addresses delays and loss of quality in conventional aircraft programs.

“Development work involves uncertainties and variability in terms of cost and time estimates needed to develop new, advanced technology,” Boeing said in a statement regarding the delay of the 70-ton Orca. “We also experienced COVID-related impacts during the stand-up of the new industrial base and supply chain needed to enter system production,” thus “delaying the delivery of the first operational vehicle, which was scheduled for late 2020.” .”

When asked whether Boeing expected to take a charge on Orca, the company said, “As always, we will evaluate the financial position of all our programs during our normal quarterly close process.”

Boeing has “worked diligently to establish a new industrial base and supply chain for titanium composites, pressure vessel production” with efficient production rates and “batteries needed to go into production” on the Orca system, the Naval Sea Systems Command said. in a statement.

The command did not address why these production challenges were not anticipated before Boeing’s Lockheed award.

The hulking underwater drones that Boeing produces with shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries build on decades of Boeing’s pioneering research into manned and unmanned submarines and defense programs it acquired from Rockwell International in 1996.

The Orca is based on Boeing’s 50-ton Echo Voyager, an experimental drone designed to spend months cruising underwater at depths as high as 31,000 feet on anti-submarine, minesweeping and other missions.

“The only place they’ve had any success organically and through acquisitions is through remote-controlled vehicles and driverless vehicles,” said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with AeroDynamic Advisory. “If they can’t do that either, that’s a problem.”

Drone ambitions

Orca is the largest of several classes of unmanned underwater and surface craft that Navy officials developed in the final years of the Trump administration in an effort to increase the service’s total inventory from 298 deployable vessels today to a staggering 355 by 2030. Biden administration has not endorsed the Trump number nor proposed a new target. But the Navy continues to see value in unmanned ships, as outlined in a March 2021 framework. The agency’s shipbuilding plan has budgeted more than $4 billion for unmanned systems through 2027.

Orca’s technical difficulties are likely to be repeated as the agency pursues unmanned systems, according to Shelby Oakley, an acquisition director with the Government Accountability Office who has been monitoring the matter.

“The Navy is in the early stages of developing unmanned systems and, like all new engineering efforts, is likely to face some challenges,” she said.

“The Navy can improve development by changing its management approach and better planning its strategy for the transition of its prototyping efforts,” she said. “We are currently evaluating the challenges facing the Orca program” and plan to report on the Navy’s path forward this summer.

Loren Thompson, a Lexington Institute analyst, said that “It is expected that Orca will eventually be able to mine mines, conduct mine countermeasures, intelligence gathering, anti-submarine operations and electronic warfare missions” and possibly conduct strike operations against surface waters. . targets at sea and on land.

Thompson, whose think tank receives contributions from Boeing, said: “Orca could be at the forefront of a revolution at sea.”

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