By Peter La Franchi in London

Five nations in discussions on surveillance project

The US Navy hopes to have initial international co-operation agreements in place by early 2007 for its Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned air system requirement.

Negotiations are underway on "umbrella" bilateral memoranda of understanding (MoU) with several countries, including Australia.

Australian defence minister Brendan Nelson last month announced plans to join BAMS to meet existing Australian Defence Force endurance unmanned air vehicle requirements.

Other countries expressing interest in the programme include Canada, Israel, Singapore and the UK, according to the US Navy. Officials from all five countries attended the navy's BAMS industry briefing in May.

The bilateral MoUs are intended to facilitate near-term, low-level involvement in the programme until "milestone B" approvals are secured in late-2007 for the BAMS system design and development (SDD) phase.

A separate multilateral co-operation MoU will be developed for the SDD phase to run from 2007 to 2011. The multilateral MoU will include provisions for risk-sharing, involvement in programme management and, possibly, co-operative production and support during low-rate initial production after 2011.

A third co-operation phase MoU is also proposed, covering full-rate production, spiral development and in-service support requirements. The US Navy says the phase 3 MoU could include provisions for international sales on a partnership basis.

The US Navy says it is encouraging US-based potential prime contractors for the project - which goes to open competition in January - to open talks with foreign firms and start work on export licence arrangements.

Opportunities for international co-operation on the project ahead of the Milestone B decision include work on systems architecture definition, concepts of operation, modelling and simulation, and industry studies.

Source: Flight International