LONDON — Britain has reopened a competition to urgently acquire an unmanned aerial surveillance system for Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessels because the contenders failed to meet Ministry of Defence requirements.
The MoD has had to change its requirements and re-seek expressions of interest from companies able to supply a contractor-owned, contractor-operated unmanned air system (UAS) for warships such as the Type 23 frigate, as well as RFA support ships.
Analysts here said a reference in the new contract requirement for the UAS to be able to “track fast moving targets” suggests the machines could boost British naval capabilities to counter the kind of threat posed by Iran’s fleet of small, high-speed attack craft.
“Neither of the original bids was compliant. We have reviewed the user requirement and arrived at a new range of specific requirements,” an MoD spokesman said.
Boeing, the EADS defense company Cassidian, Lockheed Martin and QinetiQ were invited to bid last year, and it was expected procurement officials at the MoD would be in a position to award a contract sometime this month.
But only Boeing Insitu with the ScanEagle, and Cassidian offering an AAI Aerosonde machine in an industrial partnership with Textron, Cranfield Aerospace and others responded, and neither bid fully met the requirements.
Industry sources said Boeing and Cassidian are on course to submit new bids, but it’s not clear who else might compete.
No details of exactly how the companies fell short were available, but the MoD requirement for a platform to operate out to a range of 40 nautical miles and loiter for eight hours with a predominantly electro-optical/imaging infrared payload can be easily met by both of the original contenders.
Responses for the new requirement are scheduled to drop on procurement officials’ desks no later than Feb. 21.
A deal running to March 2015 is expected to be worth about 35 million pounds ($54.3 million), although there are options to extend the service beyond that date.
A notice in the MoD Contract Bulletin said the Defence Equipment & Support organization is looking for between three and five companies for the invitation to tender phase. Lockheed Martin UK, one of the companies originally invited to bid, said it was considering its options following the contest’s reopening.
“We are currently reviewing the revised Royal Navy maritime UAS requirement,” a spokesman here said.
Lockheed’s interest in the UAS requirement this time around could be buoyed by its purchase last year of several companies with appropriate expertise in the sector.
A QinetiQ spokesman confirmed the company hadn’t bid on the first occasion, but said it was reassessing its position.
“Given the competition fell over, and the MoD has now issued the UOR [urgent operational requirement] for a second time, QinetiQ is taking a view as to whether we can make a credible contribution,” the spokesman said.
While the MoD is urgently trying to boost its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to meet potential threats, the Royal Navy, coincidentally, is also taking a step to acquire an unmanned air system on a more permanent basis with the issue of tender documents to industry for a rotary-wing capability concept demonstrator program.
The British military is looking at using a vehicle supported by simulation and synthetic environment experiments in a two-year trial program to help the Royal Navy understand the implications of operating rotor-wing UAVs.
When the British first called for expressions of interest, they said the effort would inform a possible future program of a machine that might have mine countermeasures, offensive warfare, general situational awareness and other roles.
A schedule for delivery of a UAS, which is not necessarily going to be rotor wing, at around 2020 for deployment on warships like the new Type 26 frigate and other vessels is likely, analysts here said.
A number of companies said they are looking at the demonstrator program with a view to bidding.
Fire Scout developer Northrop Grumman said it is teaming with QinetiQ as the prime.
Austrian producer Schiebel also confirmed it would be bidding the Camcopter S-100 with a U.K. prime, but the company declined to name its partner at this stage.
The British arm of Italian helicopter maker AgustaWestland also is expected to put in a tender, offering the SW-4 Solo. The machine is a UAS optionally piloted helicopter developed by AgustaWestland’s Polish subsidiary, PZL-Swidnik.