The Eurofighter Typhoon uses a Selex identification friend-or-foe system. NATO has set a requirement for its members to use a more advance IFF system on its platforms. (AFP)
LONDON AND BRUSSELS — NATO’s mandate of a new standard of identification friend-or-foe (IFF) system has required alliance members to replace or update the old Mode 4 capability. As a result, Britain’s Mode 5 competition, initally a victim of austerity measures, is finally starting to address a critical capability area for the alliance.
Four of the world’s big IFF system players are putting the finishing touches to bids ahead of submitting proposals next month to the British Defence Ministry in the first of a two-stage process aimed at getting to final contract award in 2016.
Cassidian, a Raytheon-Thales team and Selex ES are vying for a deal to supply, integrate and support a Mode 5 requirement. The winner could continue to undertake through-life support work on the British equipment beyond 2040.
By 2019, the British hope to have an initial operating capability on a system covering more than 30 legacy platforms ranging from warships to combat aircraft, UAVs and land-based air defense units.
The British MoD expects to close the bidding Nov. 13, followed by the selection of two teams for a partially MoD-funded yearlong assessment phase, set to get underway next August.
A preferred bidder for the British requirement should emerge by the end of 2015.
The Mode 5 work in Britain will be a follow-on of Raytheon’s Successor Identification Friend or Foe (SIFF) program, which provided much of the Mode 4 capability across more than 1,000 warships, submarines, aircraft, helicopters and missile systems.
Raytheon’s SIFF support program ends in 2020, a company spokesman said.
The British also operate Cassidian and Selex IFF systems across a number of the country’s key assets.
One alliance official cited the UK, along with Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain as countries at different stages of changing to Mode 5.
Several countries have started preparations for implementing Mode 5, but nobody has actually started the transition yet, sources said.
That worries companies concerned about the length of time left to successfully make the switch.
The exact deadline for phasing out Mode 4 is classified but is expected to be about 2020 or soon after.
The new equipment is compatible, but the system would not be fully functional without everyone being on Mode 5.
“The NATO deadline of having completed the Mode 5 refit by early in the next decade is an extremely ambitious goal which requires decisions to be made as soon as possible,” said one executive who asked not to be named.
All of the contractors have undertaken extensive testing to mature their IFF offerings for the British and others.
Cassidian and Selex said separately they had participated in the US-NATO Bold Quest ’13 exercise in June to demonstrate the interoperability of their Mode 5 capability with platforms from a number of NATO nations.
Raytheon and Thales reported in March they had successfully conducted Mode 5 interrogator and transponder interoperability tests at a Raytheon test range.
According to the NATO official, Mode 5 offers a number of key advantages over the older Mode 4 system. The later system is more secure against hackers and electronic countermeasures. It is also much better at avoiding interference with civil systems and is able to identify aircraft better even if there are multiple target aircraft fitted with a Mode 5 transponder, he said.
“There were cases where civil transponders were almost switched off by Mode 4. That problem has been completely solved with Mode 5,” the NATO official said.