Commercial

Defense Agency Wants To Acquire UAS Services For Use In Disaster Relief

By Calvin Biesecker | January 18, 2019
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Boeing design concept for Cargo Air Vehicle drone that can carry 500-pounds. Image: Boeing

The Defense Department’s agency charged with providing logistics support to warfighters is seeking information from vendors capable of providing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that can deliver food and water to people in remote areas following a disaster.

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) in an information request lists key capabilities and requirements for its UAS needs as part of a forthcoming acquisition for the services in the East and Gulf Coasts of the U.S.

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“This is in support of Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support’s Subsistence Contingency Operations and Natural Disaster relief efforts,” the DLA says in a Jan. 10 Request for Information on the government’s FedBizOpps site. In addition to supporting warfighters with their supply needs, DLA also provides support to the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which supports disaster response to U.S. states and territories.

Support for FEMA is “becoming more routine,” a DLA spokesman told Defense Daily on Thursday.

The DLA announcement doesn’t specify a specific event or series of disasters that is driving the need for remote delivery of food and water by UAS but it does follow a series of dramatic storms and wildfires over the past 16 months. In particular, Hurricane Maria, which hit the U.S. Virgin Islands on Sept. 19, 2017, and Puerto Rico the day after.

Maria impacted 100 percent of the populations of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are both U.S. territories located a 1,000 or more miles from Florida.

The devastation in Puerto Rico made deliveries of relief supplies difficult.

“Hurricane Maria severely damaged or destroyed a significant portion of both territories’ already fragile critical infrastructure,” FEMA said in a July 12, 2018 after-action report on the 2017 hurricane season. “Maria left Puerto Rico’s 3.7 million residents without electricity. The resulting emergency response represents the longest sustained air mission of food and water delivery in Federal Emergency Management Agency history.”

Rather than acquire the systems outright, DLA wants a contactor that can provide the delivery services through a “turnkey deployment” based on a performance-based concept of operations developed as part of a research effort. Capabilities must be in place within one to two days of an event, the agency says. It also says the drones must be non-developmental and be able to operate beyond visual line of sight in austere conditions.

Payloads on the UAS will weigh between 250 and 500 pounds and “typically” consist of cases of bottled water, Meals-Ready-to Eat, and other related operational items that will be released remotely without damage to the supplies.

For the deployments, the drones must be able to operate from maritime vessels to land, land to sea vessel, and land to land. DLA says that sea-based operations “will be coordinated with the U.S. Coast Guard.”

In the late summer of 2017, before Maria hit, Texas was hit by Hurricane Harvey, which was followed by Hurricane Irma, which slammed into Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Harvey affected 30 percent of the population in Texas and Irma affected 85 percent of the combined populations of Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Around the same time the three storms hit the U.S. and its territories, another hurricane interfered with maritime operations in the Caribbean Sea and FEMA also supported California’s response to “some of the most devastating wildfires to ever impact the state,” the after-action report said.

The DLA wants responses to its Request for Information by Jan. 25. The agency said the timing of the release of the Request for Proposals is unknown as is the ultimate amount of the eventual procurement pending the completion of market research.

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