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Marines pick three companies for loitering munitions program

The Marine Corps has selected three companies to compete for its light loitering munitions program, which seeks to equip small units with an armed drone for over-the-horizon fire missions.

AeroVironment, Anduril Industries and Teledyne FLIR will compete for the potential $249 million, five-year contract for the Organic Precision Fires-Light, according to awards notices posted April 10 on the government’s contracting website.

The light fires system is a man-packable, armed loitering drone for rifle squads and platoons. Loitering drones often have built-in warheads and strike a target by crashing into it. They are sometimes called suicide or kamikaze drones.

Assistant Commandant Gen. Christopher Mahoney said at the Defense One Summit in March that the light system was “performing very well.”

“This is extremely significant at small and large unit levels, pushes the effective range out further,” Mahoney said.

As far back as 2018, Marine officials have been looking to put armed drones in the hands of infantry squads.

At a Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory roundtable in July 2018, Capt. Matt Cornachio, then a fires project officer with the lab, said the service had successfully tested a single operator running six “suicide” drones and sought to increase that to 15 with further experimentation.

That advancement would allow infantry squads to conduct their own close-air support and electronic warfare, experts said.

Teledyne FLIR Defense announced its selection for the contract in a recent press release, noting the company would deliver the first 127 loitering munition systems for test and evaluation later this summer.

The light system is only one part of a larger effort to provide loitering munitions to Marines.

At the same March event, Mahoney said that the Corps has had challenges in both technical and performance measures for the mounted system.

The Marine Corps released its first request for information on the Organic Precision Fires-Mounted system in 2019. The mounted system was originally geared toward giving the light armored reconnaissance battalions an armed drone capability.

In 2021 the Marines awarded a contract to develop the mounted system to Mistral Inc. and UVision LTD. The Corps now wants it to mount the Light Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle, Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the Long Range Unmanned Surface Vessel, a semi-autonomous watercraft being developed by the Marines.

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