LONDON — The Ministry of Defence has halted a £1.2 billion (U.S. $1.6 billion) competition to provide air combat training for the British military as officials re-assess the scope of the requirement.

Nomination of a contractor to provide and operate aircraft and other equipment in a program known as the Air Support to Defence Operational Training, or ASDOT, program had been expected toward the end of last year.

But what was a delay has now turned into at least a postponement in a key program aimed at modernizing the British military’s air combat training capabilities to replace old aircraft like the Hawk T1.

Teams led by Babcock, Leonardo and Cobham were vying for a contractor-owned, contractor-operated deal providing aggressor squadrons, electronic-warfare and other training capabilities to the Royal Air Force, the British Army and the Royal Navy.

The deal was planned to progressively replace a mix of existing contractor- and military-provided services as they come to a close.

The start date of the first phase of ASDOT was set for next year with the deal initially running for 10 years, with an option to extend by a further five years .

Now the MoD says it is rethinking the plan, although it gave little away as to the cause of the move.

“We received a number of industry proposals in response to the ASDOT invitation to negotiation. We will now re-assess the parameters for the program,” an MoD spokesperson said.

Details are scant about the reason for the decision, though some reports here say the bidders failed to meet MoD budget targets.

But industry executives here said it was likely a case of the MoD budget being too small to meet their requirements rather than the three bidders being overpriced.

Defense aviation consultant Howard Wheeldon said whatever the reason behind the decision to halt the competition the MoD needed to rapidly get on with devising a new ASDOT plan.

“With carrier strike capability being rebuilt, the increased level of threats and more being asked from the RN and RAF, the need to ensure that we have sustainable air combat training has never been greater,” he said.

“Given the amount of work and cost put in by the various competing ASDOT project partnerships and the manner in which the cancellation decision was announced the MoD will need to work hard to rebuild lost trust,” said Wheeldon.

“My hope is that cancellation of the ASDOT project has been reasoned by an understanding of the need to raise the level of capability requirement. Nevertheless, given the seriousness of need, the MoD must now treat the ASDOT requirement as an absolute priority,” he said.

Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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