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US Army Rapid Equipping Force Looks to Small Business Innovation in Aerostat Technology

The U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force (REF), in conjunction with units in Afghanistan, saw a need for smaller airborne surveillance craft (aerostats) to provide tactical persistent surveillance at remote Command Outposts (COPs). Three small businesses responded to the REF’s Broad Agency Announcement with proposals for innovative solutions to tactical aerostats: Carolina Unmanned Vehicles, Inc., Raleigh, NC; Silicis Technologies, Inc., Westfield, IN; and Information Systems Laboratories, Inc., San Diego, CA.  The REF procured systems from each of the three vendors and conducted an assessment of the capabilities, eventually settling on all three systems as a family of tactical aerostats to support different altitudes/payloads throughout the Afghanistan area of operations.

Soldiers receive training on STMPAS (Small Tactical Multi-Payload Aerostat System) at Fort Benning's Maneuver Battle Lab on 23 May, 2012. STMPAS was developed by Carolina Unmanned Vehicle, a small business based in Raleigh, NC. Slated for deployment in Afghanistan later this year, the STMPAS will enhance unit persistent surveillance capabilities.

The REF conducted a limited objective experiment (LOE) at Fort Benning's Maneuver Battle Lab.  The purpose of the LOE was to obtain Soldier feedback on both the Small Tactical Multi-Payload Aerostatic Systems (STMPAS) (Carolina Unmanned Vehicles, Inc.) and ALTUS (Silicis Technologies, Inc.) The invaluable responses from the Soldiers allowed the vendors to make adjustments to the systems prior to their deployment.

Two REAP-XL systems (Information Systems Laboratories, Inc.) have been deployed and in operation in Afghanistan for approximately eight months, where they have undergone further assessment by Soldiers.  One STMPAS and two ALTUS systems are currently on their way to Afghanistan and are expected to be deployed by the end of August 2012.  A total of 12 aerostats from these three companies are expected to be deployed in Afghanistan by November, 2012.  Once employed, these aerostats will enhance unit persistent surveillance capabilities.  Small units will have the ability to monitor their immediate area, recon beyond obstacles and remotely identify targets of interest.  The systems will provide early warning of threats and insurgent operations, further protecting the Soldiers at the COPs.