BAE and Lockheed Martin add to teams as downselection for ISTAR draws near

Teams bidding for the UK's Watchkeeper intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) system are struggling to maintain flexibility and present solid proposals to the Ministry of Defence.

Downselection to two teams from four is due in July or August for a one-year systems integration assurance phase, to be followed by a supplier selection late next year.

BAE Systems, meanwhile, has announced new members for its Team Vigilant and Meggitt has joined the Lockheed Martin team. Other bidders are Northrop Grumman and Thales. The MoD expects the programme to be worth over  £500 million ($730million).

Watchkeeper is to provide ISTAR to army commanders at battle group, brigade and divisional level. It will consist of unmanned air vehicles (UAV) and a system for distributing and exploiting the gathered intelligence. The MoD has specified an initial operational capability "stretch target" of 2005, with full capability in 2007-08. Teams say the timetable is "aggressive".

BAE UAV business director Tim Willbond says the MoD requirements have been continually developing, as has the Team Vigilant proposal. "We didn't want to get to the solution too quickly," he says. An open architecture will allow BAE to integrate new capabilities as they become available, he adds.

Team members now consist of AAI, supplying its Shadow tactical UAV, which is in development for the US Army; AMS, responsible for ground communications and command and control integration; US-based BAE Mission Systems, responsible for the imagery exploitation chain which will be based on the systems delivered to the US armed forces; BAE Australia, providing engineering support and flight systems integration; Canada's CDL, supplying common air vehicle and payload control software, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, supplying its Predator long endurance UAV.

Lockheed Martin UK Integrated Systems business development director Andy Head says the UK company is offering integration services, not simply systems from its US sister companies. He adds: "Flexibility is important, it would be silly to specify a hardware solution now. We need a very open architecture to take whatever capabilities are needed."

Head says: "We can go anywhere to get the capability, it doesn't need to come from Lockheed Martin." Meggitt will provide the delta-winged Spectre 3 to meet the tactical UAV requirement.

Northrop Grumman is a UAV supplier as well as systems integrator and has teamed with General Dynamics UK, prime contractor for the Bowman system that would provide the communications backbone for Watchkeeper. Ultra Electronics, providing datalinks, and Detica are also in the team. Thales selected Silver Arrow as its platform supplier some time ago.

Source: Flight International