As many of you are aware, Mav6 received guidance from the Air Force to disassemble and store the Blue Devil Block II (BD2) / M1400 airship. Various reports in the media have cited “poor contractor performance” as the leading cause of this action. But the facts tell a very different story.
From the beginning, the Air Force acquisition corps was never vested in the M1400 airship and the unique “processing at the point of collection” technologies featured in the BD2 system. In fact, when the Air Force assumed responsibility for BD2 from the Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) back in early 2011, it’s first official act was to try to kill the BD2 effort in favor of a conventional fixed-wing UAV program. The Air Force Chief of Staff personally weighed in and signaled that the Air Force has “no interest in airships.” Had it not been for the intervention of supporters in Congress and OSD, the BD2 program would have died a quiet death 18-months ago. And so began a running gun battle between Mav6 (and BD2 supporters) and the Air Force, which has culminated in this most recent turn of events.
When the initial move to terminate the BD2 program failed, the Air Force proceeded to introduce wholesale changes to the BD2 development plan, which included imposing an unprecedented FAA flight certification requirement on the unmanned M1400 airship. Moreover, Mav6 was told that no new funds would be made available to support this expanded scope of work; we would have to find a way to accommodate the additional costs in the existing program funds.
But it has been the Air Force’s failure to fund Mav6′s BD2 contract in a timely manner that has represented the biggest impact to the program. It took almost a year for the Air Force to definitize Mav6′s contract – almost six months longer than the maximum time limit stipulated by the Federal Acquisition Regulations. During this period and despite that fact that Congress provided the Air Force with full funding for the BD2 program, Mav6′s ‘undefinitized’ contract was incrementally funded in small blocks. This constraint made it impossible for Mav6 to fully staff the BD2 development effort or fund subcontractors and vendors.
In summary, the BD2 development effort to date can best be characterized as follows:
- A highly complex development effort to build the world’s largest UAV and most advanced multi-sensor processing system;
- A hostile government customer;
- Sweeping government-imposed requirements changes; and
- Persistent government-imposed funding constraints.
The linked fact sheet (M1400 Airship Fact Sheet 25 May 12v2) provides additional context on the history and current status of the BD2 effort.
In spite of all of this, we are 90-95% complete with the M1400 development effort, having incurred only 12% cost growth to the overall BD2 program. To date, the U.S. taxpayers have invested $150 million (more if you include funds executed directly by the Air Force) in development of the BD2 capability. And Mav6 is within a couple of months and $3-5 million in additional costs of achieving first flight – as validated by a recent independent government review of the M1400 airship. And I should add that there is over $50 million in remaining FY12 BD2 funds to support completion of the M1400 airship and operational demonstration of the BD2 capability.
Is it in the best interests of the warfighter and the nation’s defense to stop the BD2 program now?
Mav6 is a different kind of defense company, and it’s because we are different that we are bound to rub some people the wrong way. Customers who are vested in old ways of doing business aren’t going to like what we have to sell. While we haven’t preformed flawlessly on the BD2 program, we have done a pretty remarkable job getting this far in the face of all of the unnecessary outside obstacles that have been put in our path (see Recapping the M1400 development effort).
I don’t want anyone to think that we have stopped fighting for BD2. We continue to have broad support in Congress and the Combatant Commands for continuation of the BD2 program, and our allies are mobilizing to ensure a future for the effort. We can’t predict exactly what this future will look like right now, but there are a number of options on the table. Stay tuned…