Avoiding Politics: The UK Defence Ministry may speed up some programs ahead of next year's election, such as a plan to have contractors handle military air traffic control. (Royal Air Force)
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LONDON — The last time Britain had a general election, the winning Conservative-led coalition held up 17 defense programs approved by the previous Labour administration in the run up to the vote while they conducted a review of the various deals.
With a new election exactly a year away, the Defence Ministry appears to be trying to protect key programs from suffering a similar fate this time round.
One program MoD officials might accelerate from its original decision date of 2015 is the plan to use contractors to provide military air traffic management at British and overseas bases, said industry executives here.
Other programs could follow as executives here caution that with a May election followed by a strategic defense and security review and possible further defense budget cuts coming down the road 2015, it could create an even more difficult time to get contracts approved than it would be if the MoD did it now.
One executive said the two consortiums competing for the expected £1.5 billion (US $2.5 billion) Project Marshall deal had been working to a new tempo on the program for some time. Another said there had been no formal announcement of the timeline change, but that it was understood a preferred bidder could be selected around the end of the third quarter of this year.
A spokeswoman for the MoD confirmed that bringing forward selection was an option but said a final decision would await contractor selection.
“Two proposals were received in early January and we are now in the final stages of discussions with the bidders. It is possible that a contract could be awarded earlier than the planned 2015 date but no decisions will be made until the preferred bidder is selected,” she said.
The British have been trying to update their air traffic management since launching the Joint Military Air Traffic Services program in 2005.
Consortiums led by Lockheed Martin and Thales UK are starting to put the finishing touches to final tenders, expected to be submitted early this summer.
Doug Barrie, the senior air analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said part of the reason for the MoD’s caution on timing may come from the experience of getting earlier military-to-contractor-related programs through the process.
“They never deliver signed contracts remotely near the time scale envisaged,” he said.
Project Marshall is set to run for 22 years. The deal will see the winning consortium become the military air traffic management service provider here. The deal includes responsibility for maintaining and replacing an aging infrastructure, which includes 30-year-old Watchman surveillance radars. ■