Four contractors have been invited to tender for an initially two-year requirement to provide the UK with a maritime unmanned air system capability to be deployed from Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels.

Boeing Defence UK, Cassidian, Lockheed Martin UK Integrated Systems and Qinetiq have been asked to contest the urgent operational requirement (UOR) deal for a contractor-owned, contractor-operated service, the Ministry of Defence says.

The companies are required to reply to a mid-November invitation to tender by 18 December, with the MoD expecting to issue a contract to one of the bidders in early February 2013.

The selected supplier must be capable of providing two "task lines" until 31 May 2015, according to a notification published on 26 November. Each of these should be able to deliver 300h of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services using unmanned aircraft per month, with additional provision to potentially also be sought if needed to support surge operations.

The MoD, which has previously estimated the deal as worth £40 million ($64 million), says bidders must submit proposals based on the use of a commercial off-the-shelf system able to satisfy the regulatory needs of the UK Military Aviation Authority.

On introduction, the maritime UAS will be launched from and recovered aboard a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel, with the MoD also later requiring the system to be employed from the RN's Type 23 frigates.

The selected reconnaissance asset should offer an 8h endurance when operating 32nm (59km) away from its launch platform, and carry at least an electro-optical/infrared sensor payload.

Boeing is likely to offer a solution based on the use of its ScanEagle design, but it is unclear which systems its rival bidders will propose for the requirement.

Source: Flight International