Douglas Barrie/LONDON Ramon Lopez/WASHINGTON DC

TEAMS LED BY LORAL and Raytheon have been selected by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) to undertake competitive 18-month definition studies for its airborne stand-off radar (ASTOR) project.

The two teams were selected from seven bids submitted to the MoD. Other contenders included Hughes, GEC-Marconi and British Aerospace.

The MoD aims to have an "initial capability" with the ASTOR by 2001, says Paul Kennedy, its Director of Strategic Electronic Systems, with a full capability by 2003. Loral is teamed with Logica and Thorn EMI. Raytheon's team includes the UK Defence Research Agency and Hunting.

The project-definition studies are intended to provide the MoD with a specific cost proposal from each of the teams, along with a generic specification. The ministry will then invite tenders for open competition, says Kennedy. The requirement is believed to be for seven aircraft.

The ASTOR, one of the longest-running projects on the MoD's procurement list, is intended to provide a theatre-wide stand-off surveillance and targeting capability, while also being used to "cue" other reconnaissance and targeting systems.

Kennedy, addressing a House of Commons Defence Committee hearing, declined to specify particular platforms, saying only that a business-jet type is the most likely solution.

Military sources suggest that the Gulfstream GIV and GV, along with the Bombardier Global Express, remain the favoured choices, being able to meet the range and height requirements demanded by the UK - the latter thought to be in excess of 50,000ft (15,250m).

Although, the Northrop Grumman/BAe team was not selected for the project definition phase, the E-8C joint-surveillance target-attack radar system (J-STARS), has not been ruled out.

Air Cdre Bill Tyack, director of operational requirements, says that NATO is conducting its own stand off surveillance platform study.

The possible alignment of the UK's requirement with that of NATO, he says, " an open question for the moment".

Northrop Grumman and senior US Air Force officials believe that they can meet NATO and UK requirements for airborne stand off surveillance.

US Air Force Gen. John Loh, head of Air Combat Command, says: "NATO has a requirement for a ground-surveillance programme that we think will be best supported by Joint STARS."


Source: Flight International