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MoD fights for Canberra successor

UK ministry to select bidder to study concept for intelligence gathering, surveillance and targeting system

The UK Ministry of Defence will attempt next month to relaunch its troubled search to replace the Royal Air Force's English Electric Canberra PR9 photographic reconnaissance aircraft, with the selection of a bidder to run a concept definition phase for Project Dabinett.

Lockheed Martin is competing against a UK-based team comprising Qinetiq and LogicaCMG to conduct a concept study of requirements for deep battlespace surveillance out to 2020, say industry sources.

The selected bidder is expected to write a user requirement document that will be used in an attempt to secure long-term funding in the MoD's equipment plan. The project will address theUK's future intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) data collection, fusion and dissemination requirements.

The MoD is unwilling to provide further details of Project Dabinett, but confirms that it "will be entering the concept phase from mid-May".

Uncertainty over whether there is enough spare money in the ministry's 2005 equipment plan is thought to be behind its continuing inability to make firm plans to fund a replacement for the Canberra.

A long-range, long-endurance air vehicle is a strong candidate for Dabinett as an outgrowth of the current efforts by the UK's Joint UAV Experimentation Programme organisation.

Dabinett is closely connected to Project Listener, which aims to horizontally integrate ISTAR sensors across the UK armed services and is already in its concept phase.

The effort to anchor Dabinett in the equipment programme by establishing a formal requirement largely repeats a nine-month study in 2003 by BMT Defence Services, which also developed user requirements. This defined the capability gaps left by the retirement of the RAF's five Canberra PR9s by 31 March 2006 and outlined the UK's future ISTAR requirements.

The MoD is assessing how to replace the Canberra's niche capabilities over Afghanistan in the face of a "capability holiday" between the type's retirement and the availability of new systems.


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