The UK's urgent requirement to field a maritime unmanned air system capability from later this year appears to have narrowed to a fight between Boeing and EADS company Cassidian, with two other potential contractors understood to have opted against tabling bids.
Boeing Defence UK is offering the Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle for the initially two-year requirement, while Cassidian has confirmed pitching the AAI Aerosonde (below). Also invited to tender for the deal last November, Lockheed Martin UK Integrated Systems and Qinetiq both decided not to submit proposals before an 18 December deadline, says an industry source.
The Ministry of Defence has previously outlined a goal to contract a bidder for the maritime UAS deal by early February. Its requirement is for a contractor-owned and contractor-operated system to initially be launched from and recovered to Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels, before also later being flown from the RN's Type 23 frigates.
An aircraft endurance of 8h is sought while carrying a surveillance payload including at least an electro-optical/infrared sensor and while operating 32nm (59km) from the launch vessel. A commercial off-the-shelf system is mandated, due to the short programme schedule.
The urgent operational requirement deal seeks an initial single "task line" capable of providing 300h of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance cover per month, with a second line to be added later. The contract will run until at least 31 May 2015.
Cassidian says its Aerosonde proposal requires no deck alterations to UK ships, includes a small logistical support footprint and is backed by the provision of experienced UAS operators. It also claims to be able to offer "more interoperability options through Astrium with the other services," referring to the UK's military satellite communications infrastructure.
Confirming its withdrawal from the process, Qinetiq says that while it believed its industry team had come up with "the most capable solution" for the deal, "following discussion with the MoD on the nature of their requirement we feel that it is not possible to meet the timescales demanded without introducing unacceptable levels of programme risk to the user. Hence, we have reluctantly decided not to proceed at this time".
Lockheed was unavailable for comment.