Stewart Penney/LONDON


The key government committee meeting destined to decide the outcome of three critical UK Royal Air Force competitions - Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM), Short Term Tactical Airlifter (STSA) and Future Tactical Airlifter(FTA) - has been moved forward a week to 8 March.

Industry sources say the Defence and Overseas Policy committee, consisting of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Chancellor, Foreign Secretary, Secretary for Trade and Industry and Minister of Defence, is to meet earlier than expected to allow decisions ahead of a European Union summit at the end of this month.

The competitions have been subject to enormous political pressure as Europe has sought to launch new programmes on the back of arguments for technology independence from the USA, while the USA has offered the cash-strapped UK Ministry of Defence the prospect of low-cost, low-risk solutions.

The sources say the MoD's Equipment Approvals Committee (EAC) - which met last month - is recommending US options for the short term, with longer-term commitments, including funding, to European solutions. EAC recommendations are, however, "one player indicating their preference - there are four others in the game," says a source.

The BVRAAM competition is a fight between a Matra BAe Dynamics (MBD)-led team offering the Meteor and a Raytheon bid based on an upgraded AIM-120AMRAAMlinked to an offer from the US Government for future UK/US air-to-air missile development. Industry sources suggest Meteor will be favoured in the long run, but Raytheon could also get a reduced order.

The RAF has ordered the standard AMRAAM for use on its Eurofighters from 2002. The BVRAAM requirement demands delivery of the new missile in 2008 - a timescale few observers believe Meteor can meet, despite guarantees given by MBD.

On the aircraft front, Boeing is offering the C-17Globemaster with Air Foyle and the Antonov An-124 as the STSA rival, while the C-17 is also fighting for an FTA win, this time against the Airbus Military Company's A400M.

Sources suggest the EAC has recommended a short-term purchase of three C-17s and a commitment to the A400M, with the proviso that the programme moves forward. If not, the C-17s will be retained.

The MoD says it continues to expect decisions in the first quarter of this year.

Source: Flight International