Insitu Inc., has received a $78M contract for the procurement of six low-rate initial production Lot IV RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aircraft systems. That equates to $13M per aircraft.
To refresh, the Blackjack is a small UAV of a bit over 100 lbs and a payload of around 40 lbs. This is a really tiny aircraft!
What’s the relevance, here? Well, there is a school of thought that claims that UAVs, be they UCLASS/UCAV or whatever, will be significantly cheaper than corresponding manned aircraft. That’s absurd, of course. If they’re corresponding then the cost would correspond, also.
In any event, here’s a data point. A 100+ lb UAV costs $13M each. If that cost scales up to, say, a Predator size UAV which is 20x the weight, the cost would be $260M each.
The point is that UAVs are not going to be cheaper than manned aircraft for comparable capabilities. Logic dictates that they can’t be and here’s an actual price point that supports that conclusion.
Face it, people. UAVs are just as expensive as manned aircraft.
OK, that’s sobering but not exactly earth-shaking. Is there more to this story?
Yes, one of the concepts for UAV utilization seems to be a willingness to throw UAVs at high value, high risk targets. Well, from a pilot safety perspective that’s certainly valid. However, we see that the type of UAV that can cover a thousand miles and return, carry a significant payload, and have a significant degree of stealth so that it has a chance to survive to reach its target will be very expensive. Will we really “throw” $200M UAVs at targets where we expect high attrition rates?