Boeing continues to develop Orca drones, a few years behind budget and billions of dollars

Boeing plans to deliver Orca, an underwater drone the same size as a subway car intended to lay mines and carry out other U.S. Navy missions, three years later than planned.

Five aircraft will be operational in September 2023 instead of December 2020, “due to contractor challenges and supplier issues,” according to budget documents, as the Navy seeks to incorporate pilotless vessels into future fleets. The first Orca drone may be delivered.

Boeing defeated aerospace rival Lockheed Martin in a February 2019 project. With a $ 274 million fixed-price contract, companies need to absorb overruns that exceed certain thresholds.

“The Navy is working with Boeing to reduce schedule delays and reduce risk,” the service said, paying for the prototypes used for testing and training. The test drone was baptized on April 28 and began its first underwater test.

Boeing spends more than $ 1.3 billion on cost overruns for fixed-price defense contracts, including one new Air Force aircraft, the KC-46, in the first quarter, and then time to work on the Pentagon contract with promised specifications. The ability to complete as per is being scrutinized for the Tanker Program and the Navy’s MQ-25 aerial refueling drone.

Boeing has continued to invest in futuristic unmanned technologies in the air and sea to address the delays and quality degradations of traditional airplane programs.

“Development work involves uncertainty and volatility in estimating the cost and time required to develop new advanced technologies,” Boeing said in a statement on the 70-ton Orca delay. “We also experienced COVID-related impacts during the launch of the new industrial infrastructure and supply chain needed to enter system production,” so “delivery of the first operational vehicle scheduled for the end of 2020 was delayed. I did. ”

Asked if Boeing expects to be in charge of Orca, the company said, “As always, we assess the financial position of all programs during the normal quarterly closing process.”

Boeing has been enthusiastic about launching a new industrial base and supply chain for titanium composites, pressure vessel manufacturing with efficient production rates and “batteries needed to get into production” with the Orca system. “The Navy Navy Systems Command said in a statement.

The command did not address why these production challenges were unexpected before the Boeing award to Lockheed.

The giant underwater drone, manufactured by Boeing in collaboration with shipbuilding company Huntington Ingalls Industries, is based on Boeing’s decades of state-of-the-art research on manned and unmanned submarines and a defense program acquired from Rockwell International in 1996. I am.

Orca is based on Boeing’s 50 tonnes of Echo Voyager. This is an experimental drone designed to cruise underwater for months at a depth of 11,000 feet on submarines, mine sweeps, and other missions.

Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at AeroDynamic Advisory, said: “If they can’t do that either, that’s a problem.”

Drone ambition

Orca was developed by Navy officials in the last years of the Trump administration to increase the total inventory of services from the current 298 deployable vessels to 355 by 2030, in several classes of unmanned underwater. It is the largest surface ship. We have not approved the number of playing cards and have not proposed new goals. However, as outlined in the March 2021 framework, the Navy continues to find value in unmanned vessels. The shipbuilding program for this service has budgeted more than $ 4 billion by 2027 for pilotless systems.

Orca’s technical issues are likely to be repeated as services pursue unmanned systems, said Shelby Oakley, acquisition director of the Government Accountability Office, who is following the issue.

“The Navy is in the early stages of unmanned spacecraft development and, like all new technological efforts, can face some challenges,” she said.

“The Navy can improve development by changing its management approach and better planning strategies for migrating prototyping efforts,” she said. “We are currently considering the challenges facing the Orca program and will report on the Navy’s course this summer.”

“We hope Orca will eventually be able to carry out minelaying, minelayering, intelligence gathering, anti-submarine operations, and electronic warfare missions,” said Lauren Thompson, an analyst at the Lexington Institute. rice field. Sea and land targets.

“Orca could be at the forefront of a revolution at sea,” said Thompson, whose think tanks are contributed by Boeing.

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