Stewart Penney/LONDON

The UK Ministry of Defence is inviting a dozen companies to bid for the assessment phase of its Sender unmanned air vehicle (UAV) requirement. At the same time, the MoD and US Army have agreed a letter of intent (LoI) to explore opportunities for Tactical UAV (TUAV) co-operation.

Sender will be a unit-level UAV, providing tactical reconnaissance and target acquisition at ranges of 30km (16nm). The vehicle is due to be in service in 2008. It is one of two UAV requirements being looked at by the British Army; the larger Spectator will be a brigade-level asset with a 150km range.

Phoenix is the only UAV in service with the British Army. Its primary role is for target acquisition for the Royal Artillery.

The MoD has issued a draft invitation to tender (ITT) to Aerospatiale Matra, Bell Helicopter Textron, GKN Westland Helicopters, Hunting, Thomson-CSF, Lockheed Martin, Marconi Avionics, Matra BAe Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Racal, Raytheon and TRW. A finalised ITT will be issued within the next month. It has received responses from 36 companies interested in participating in the Sender ITT (Flight International, 25-31 August).

The ministry says it will select up to four companies to assess UAV systems - including airframes, sensors, control and support - to meet the Sender requirement. Contracts will be awarded by May.

While Sender is a UK-only requirement, the UK/US LoI will allow the pair to explore TUAV co-operation opportunities. Potentially, this will include harmonisation of national requirements, doctrine and research efforts; technology sharing; operational experience and tactical training; procurement plans and management strategy and further co-operation. The outcome will be fed into future UK/US programmes, which could be joint requirements, acknowledges the MoD. As well as Spectator, a third emerging UK requirement, the Extender datalink relay vehicle, has parallels with a number of US programmes.

Operational experience from the Kosovo campaign will also be studied for application to future UAV requirements. The MoD says this will include integration with other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, as well as strike and command, control, communications, computers and intelligence systems. The British and US Armies deployed UAVs to the Kosovo conflict.

• The MoD is to start a pilot scheme to the change the way it allocates research and development funding. Previously the entire £400 million ($660 million) budget was allocated to the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, which then allocated around 25% to academia and industry. The MoD will allocate part of the funding directly, via competitive tender.

Source: Flight International