Paul Phelan/CAIRNS

THE PERFORMANCE of the GEC-Marconi Avionics Seaspray radar, is at the centre of a growing dispute, between the Australian Government and the four losing bidders, for its A$270 million ($210 million) nine year coastal surveillance contract.

The work was awarded to National Jet Systems (NJS) of Adelaide (Flight International, 21-27 September, 1994).

The four operators - Skywest Aviation, Cobham Aviation (a teaming of Flight Refuelling in the UK and Australian Jet Charter), the Chopperline and the Direct Flight consortium (involving a UK company of the same name and Jetcraft) have formed a joint committee to challenge the decision, and customs minister Chris Schacht has been given a catalogue of serious alleged irregularities in the tender-evaluation process. These allege that:

published tender-evaluation procedures were not complied with;

some bidders were excluded on the basis of public-service evaluation of management background;

critical decisions were withheld selectively from tenderers during the process;

government representatives responsible for process audit served on the tender-evaluation committee;

an extra aircraft was added by the successful tenderer and there was a late substitution of radar.

Schacht has replied to the operators, saying that government-procurement specialists are satisfied with the process which led to the letting of the contract.

Three operators, including NJS, proposed the Seaspray 2000 radar for the electronic-surveillance component of the contract. The group alleges that, during the evaluation process (when two other tenderers which proposed Telephonics radars queried GEC-Marconi performance claims), the Defence Science & Technology Organisation (DSTO) evaluated Seaspray independently; and that its claimed target-acquisition range-performance was downgraded from 70km (38nm) to 45km without all tenderers being advised, although the DSTO is believed to have used more extensive performance criteria than required by the proposal documents in its study.

Bidders say that GEC-Marconi subsequently told them that the radar could achieve the quoted detection ranges with minor modifications, and that although they were subsequently given to believe that the radar problem was resolved, NJS substituted the Texas Instruments APS 134 radar after best and final offers had closed and before the award determination.

GEC-Marconi says: "We are disappointed that NJS are fitting a system other than the Seaspray, especially as we believe they were selected on the basis of our radar."

"This is not just a case of disappointed losers contesting a decision," says Cobham Aviation. "As a group we've put everything on the table and we're not using all our ammunition yet, but we're keeping the minister responsible informed, because if the audit process that should have been followed by his officers is shown to be faulty, he's going to cop the backlash as well."

At least one Australian Customs officer directly involved in the assessment was at the centre of a dispute five years ago, when an earlier contract was awarded to a small Darwin company.

That company had no aircraft or infrastructure, failed to meet deadlines, and was eventually excluded.

National Jet Systems is providing three new de Havilland Canada Dash 8-200s and three Reims F406s (Caravan II) equipped with the APS 134 radar, plus six Pilatus Britten-Norman BN2B-20s for visual surveillance.

Source: Flight International