Two of the UK Royal Air Force's key surveillance types have received an operational lift, thanks to a new agreement between the Ministry of Defence, Raytheon UK and Textron Aviation.
Operating under the name Team Shadow, the new strategic relationship will "further improve effectiveness and realise efficiencies" on the Sentinel R1 and Shadow R1 fleets, the partners say.
An immediate objective of the initiative is to smooth the delivery of a major upgrade programme for the Shadow: a heavily modified Beechcraft King Air 350CER, which has been operated by the Royal Air Force since late last decade.
Speaking at the Farnborough air show on 16 July, Roland Howell, Raytheon UK's director airborne ISR, confirmed that six of the twin-turboprops are now involved in a first-stage upgrade programme. This standard should achieve initial operating capability status before the end of next year, and be followed by a more capable Shadow 2 standard to be in use across the fleet by 2022.
Howell declines to provide specific details of the enhancements, but describes "modularity and connectivity" as key in ensuring that new capabilities can be introduced to the platform without encountering long lead times.
Air Cdre Ian Gale, the RAF's senior responsible owner ISTAR platforms, says the Shadow 2 update could adopt an "app-type methodology", and will make the platform "better connected and integrated than ever before". One effect of the Team Shadow partnership has been to slash the current upgrade phase's expected duration from five years to 18 months, he says.
The MoD outlined its Shadow modernisation priorities within its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, including increasing its fleet size from five to eight examples. The type is expected to remain in operational use until 2030.
Meanwhile, the MoD has found "efficiencies and cost savings" as a result of an Integrated Sentinel Support Solution deal signed in 2016. This is currently planned to enable operations with the RAF's adapted Bombardier Global Express business jets to continue until March 2021.
Gale describes the Sentinel's ground surveillance capabilities as "not replicated anywhere else in the world". Four examples are in use, including in support of the UK's Operation Shader contribution to coalition activities over Iraq and Syria.
Gale reveals that a fifth example, which was removed from service post-SDSR, has been retained by Raytheon at the company's Broughton facility, and remains in a "viable" condition.
"As we wait for decisions from the Modernising Defence Programme we are really well positioned – should we be asked to – to move it back into the fleet," Gale says.
Pointing to the current Sentinel force, he notes: "The airframe has got a lot of life left in it: the mission system is the thing that we'd look to upgrade." Any decision to further extend the type's use could lead to updates such as a new radar, cockpit enhancements and the ability to meet future airspace requirements.