SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — The Army plans to expand the vendor pool for its Low Altitude Stalking and Strike Ordnance program. In the meantime, the service needs Congress to pass supplemental funding to scale up procurement of the first iteration of the kamikaze drones, according to its top weapons buyer.
For LASSO, the Army wants man-portable, tube-launched, unmanned aerial systems that have an electro-optical/infrared sensor, precision flight control, and the ability to fly, track and engage non-line-of-sight targets and armored vehicles with precision.
AeroVironment’s Switchblade 600 loitering munition was recently sole-sourced for the initial variant through an urgent-need acquisition pathway. The drone is designed to destroy its targets by crashing into them with a warhead.
However, the Pentagon is still looking for more LASSO funding from Congress, which hasn’t passed a full-year defense appropriations bill for fiscal 2024 or approved the national security supplemental funding request from the Biden administration. Federal agencies are currently operating under a continuing resolution.
“The second step with all such things is finding the money,” Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Doug Bush said in an interview with DefenseScoop at the Reagan National Defense Forum. “You can imagine under a CR, it’s harder to move things around. But Congress did approve a reprogramming to get us started — it was small, but like $20 million to get us started. We’re working on getting that on contract now. And production of increment 1, you know, is going to be Switchblade 600. They can produce those things pretty fast. So I imagine, you know, we’re … hopefully just like a year away, maybe, from having initial stuff fielded. We can go faster, though. The supplemental request actually has $72 million in it for that initiative. So that would get us up to, you know, $92 million, and now we’re talking several thousand systems. So if we get supplemental, then we’ll really get moving on that.”
Last week, Bush visited AeroVironment’s facility in Simi Valley, California.
“It was a very, very good visit. Really interesting … The Army is already buying [Switchblades], but it was good to go see the manufacturing line and actually see the weapons or how they’re put together. And they’ve got certainly potential to scale up. And they’ve got a lot of other customers,” he noted.
However, going forward, the Army doesn’t intend for LASSO to be a winner-take-all program for industry.
“We’re gonna have multiple variants and we’re gonna have competition. So, to meet the urgent need, we’ve gone sole source to a limited number of SB 600, which is a very good system. But there’s a lot of companies in this space with a lot of good tech. So, we want to have really continuous competition because different companies have things that fit different parts of the mission space better … This is one where I think it’d be unwise to pick one at the start and just say, ‘Nope, this is it. Nobody else gets anything. This one company is it.’ There’s too much competition in this space. We want to leverage that innovation,” Bush told DefenseScoop.
He noted that he visited several drone vendors during his trip to California last week.
“You’ve heard the chief of staff — Gen. [Randy] George talked about the need to go faster and broader here in UAS. So kind of just getting an idea of the landscape of who can really scale up quickly, who’s got the base, you know, the capacity,” Bush said.