LONDON — Britain has taken a significant step toward updating its air defenses on the Falkland Islands by kick-starting a competition to supply a key element of a new ground-based system.

Defence Ministry of Defence officials recently briefed industry on its their requirements for a battle management C4I system command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (BMC4I) and have triggered the process toward selecting a contractor to do the work by issuing a pre-qualification questionnaire.

An MoD spokesman for the MoD declined to confirm the system is destined for the Falkland Islands, saying that commenting on deployment details is "inappropriate" at this time.

Industry sources, though, said the BMC4I system is scheduled to head to the British overseas territory in the South Atlantic, some 300 miles off the coast of Argentina.

Britain and the Argentina fought a 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.

Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Saab were amongst the companies known to have attended the February briefing by the British MoD.

The contract comes in what the British call its their B1 funding category, which means the value of the BMC4I deal lays somewhere between £100 million (US $147 million) and £250 million.

The command-and-control system will be part of an air defense system that which will include a new ground-to-air missile being developed by MBDA and Saab's Giraffe radar, which is already in service with the British military.

The MoD spokesman said the BMC4I-based requirement is currently in the assessment phase with the contract award to go ahead, known here as the main gate decision, anticipated by May 2016.

He declined to give an in-service date for the system at this point.

However, the MoD's Contract Bulletin reports that the winning contractor will have to provide five years of initial support in a contract set to end in 2025.

The British Army recently received took delivery of the last unit of a similar ground-based air defense system from Lockheed Martin, known as Land Environment Air Picture Provision, or LEAPP.

The spokesman said LEAPP hadn't been considered because the new requirement involved additional capabilities.

"The potential threat posed to our forces from air platforms and their munitions has evolved and the system required must interact with the Future Local Area Air Defence System (FLAADS) (Land) and G-AMB radar system, meaning it needs a solution incorporating additional capabilities (like weapon control) for which LEAPP was not designed," he said.

LEAPP achieved full operating capability in last December and the spokesman said reliability and functionality of the system is exemplary.

Britain awarded missile-maker MBDA a £228 million contract in last December to develop the FLAADS (Land) weapon system.

The new weapon is destined to replace the long-serving Rapier anti-air missile as part of the Falklands ground-based defenses and in other British Army units by 2020.

With an aging Air Force, Argentina the Argentines currently poses no threat to the islands, which are guarded by a small force of Royal Air Force Typhoon fighters and ground-based assets.

The Argentineans, though, have been trying, so far without success, to modernize a force that which currently consists of Mirage III, Super Entendard and Nesher combat jets.


Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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