LONDON - Britain has awarded £153 million (US $187 million) worth of contracts to equip the Falkland Islands with a new ground-based air-defense system known as Sky Sabre, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.
A clutch of deals agreed around the turn of the year but only now becoming public includes award of a contract by the British to an Israeli company to supply a key battlefield command-and-control network to defend the South Atlantic island from potential Argentinian aggression.
The main contract award, which the MoD valued at £78 million (US $95 million), was signed Jan. 9 with Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, to develop a battle management, command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (BMC4I) network.
Missile builder MBDA and surveillance radar supplier Saab have also been awarded contracts to integrate other, already ordered, ground-based air-defense system elements into the BMC4I.
Rafael, with help from UK partners Babcock, will supply its Modular, Integrated C4I Air & Missile Defense System and associated equipment in a development and manufacture phase likely to be completed around 2020.
Babcock will provide a proportion of UK based activity including: synthetic based test and integration facilities, project management and hardware procurement.
The percentage of UK work content on BMC4I is put at 40percent with the remainder coming from Israel.
The requirement is to deliver a ground-based air defence (GBAD) capability along with an initial support solution for up to 5 years. As part of the agreement, Rafael will serve as key systems integrator, including provision of communications links and integration with existing in-service communications infrastructure.
The Israeli’s secured the deal on the back of delivering the best technical solution for the best value for money, said an MoD official.
Nevertheless, industry executives in Europe reacted angrily to the award of the BMC4I system to the Israeli contractor.
“Everybody was extremely surprised the MoD opted for Rafael. Politically, industry thought that was a route the UK government wouldn’t go down. It’s something other MoD’s, like the Israeli or French, would never have done. It makes you wonder just what parts of the local defense industry the government is willing to defend,” said the executive, who asked not to be named.
Doug Barrie, the senior air analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank in London said he was puzzled by the decision.
“At least on paper this looks like a sensitive area to award to a non-NATO or non-European partner. I’d have thought the government might have wanted to stay closer to home with this technology, as it arguably comes into the territory of sovereign operational capability,” said Barrie.
Concerns have also been raised by executives here about sharing sensitive Land Ceptor missile data with the Israeli company, which is itself a significant missile developer.
An MoD spokeswoman said the department had addressed the issue in the contract.
“Appropriate non-disclosure agreements are in place between the participating companies, along with safeguards around sensitive information and what needs to be shared,” said the spokeswoman.
Land Ceptor is currently in development led by the British arm of MBDA. The weapon is part of the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile family, the naval version of which has also been ordered by the Royal Navy.
MBDA was one of the bidders for the BMC4I requirement. Lockheed Martin , Northrop Grumman, Thales and Saab were also thought to have lodged bids.
Rafael is no stranger to the British, or its potential Argentinian adversary.
The company secretly supplied Spike missiles to the British Army starting around 2007 to help combat terror groups in Iraq and Afghanistan and also developed the Litening targeting pod used by the Royal Air Force.
The Israeli company has also supplied the Argentinian forces with missiles in the past.
Britain and Argentina fought a short but bloody war over the islands in 1982, and the dispute concerning sovereignty of the territory, known in Buenos Aires as the Malvinas, continues to rumble on diplomatically, although relations between the two Governments have improved since President Mauricio Macri came to power at the end of 2015.
The British defend the islands with a force including Typhoon jets, an offshore patrol vessel, a ground-based air-defense system and infantry.
The BMC4I order is the final major element of a more than two-year program aimed at beefing up the Falkland ground-based air defenses currently reliant on the aging Rapier ground-to-air missile.
MBDA secured a deal to supply the British Army with a new ground-to-air weapon, known as the Land Ceptor, at the end of 2014, and that was followed several months later by the MoD acquiring additional Giraffe surveillance radars and updating existing sensors in a deal with Saab.
A spokeswoman for the MoD said the latest batch of orders includes a £31 million deal with MBDA to integrate Land Ceptor into the battlefield management system and an £8 million deal with Saab to integrate their Giraffe radar.
The spokeswomen said a further £31 million in contracts had also been awarded to purchase additional Land Ceptor missile launchers and a UK-based training system.
The Argentines have for several years been trying to modernize a combat jet force made up of A-4 Skyhawks and Super Etendards, so far without success.
Last month, the Argentine government announced the suspension of efforts to procure fighter aircraft, putting an end to rumors about talks to buy Kfirs from Israel and MiG 29s from Russia.