LONDON – The British Army is upgrading its existing command-and-control, battlespace-management capabilities in a deal with Lockheed Martin UK that the contractor originally declined to bid on.

The company announced it had secured the contract Jan. 26, saying that the work would enable the early-air-defense-warning system’s out-of-service date to be extended several years to 2029.

The UK arm of Lockheed Martin, based at Ampthill in southern England, developed and supplied the system, known as the Land Environment Air Picture Provision program, or LEAPP for short, to the British in 2014, providing air situational awareness to deployed land headquarters.

LEAPP has been deployed across the world with the British Army, and most recently was deployed as a surveillance capability at two high-profile global events hosted by the UK: the G7 2021 Summit in Cornwall and the COP 26 Summit in Glasgow.

The British Army now wants to update the system and address several obsolescence issues to see the capability through to its new retirement date.

“The extended out-of-service date cements LEAPP’s importance within the land environment and air picture exchange within the land environment, so they [the MoD] saw this as a really key capability and they needed to have the obsolescence issues resolved so that it could be taken forward,” said Richard Turner, Lockheed Martin UK’s SkyKeeper business development manager.

SkyKeeper, is currently the battle management command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (BMC4I) component of the LEAPP program and a key element in Lockheed Martin’s international sales effort in the sector.

But when the Ministry of Defence originally issued its requirements to potential industry bidders Lockheed Martin, the incumbent supplier, said it couldn’t be done for the £10 million ($13.5 million) price tag the military had in mind and opted to forgo a bid.

“The MoD was trying to be as diligent as they could in order to get a capability as cheap as possible and we were just being honest and saying we can’t do what you want for that amount,” said Turner.

A handful of contractors did bid for the LEAPP update but ran into similar issues as Lockheed Martin UK. “The MoD sought potential resolution from other companies, but basically the rest of industry were unable to provide the capability the MoD needed for the money they wanted to spend either,” said Turner.

“Also, we were confident LEAPP is a tremendous capability the Army had and all they needed to do was upgrade that system by finding a little extra money to enable it to be cost effective for us to do it,” said Turner.

That, effectively, is what happened. The deal Lockheed Martin UK and the MoD settled on had a price tag in the region of £20 million, or $27 million.

Despite the LEAPP contract announcement only being made public on Jan. 26 work on the program has been underway at Ampthill for several months.

To avoid entry into service timelines becoming too squeezed a first release of funds by the MoD last summer allowed Lockheed Martin to get ahead of the game on updating LEAPP, said Turner.

The announcement Jan 26 represents the final phase of the contract award.

The enhanced system will boost the Army’s existing command-and-control capability and enable it to effectively communicate via upgraded Link 16 capabilities and seamlessly plug into the wider UK defense digital backbone.

Nobody is saying exactly when the update will be complete, but the MoD’s decision to speed the program along with initial funding last year suggests the work will be finished sooner rather than later.

Updating LEAPP is part of a wider push by the British military to improve ground based air defense capabilities.

The MBDA Land Ceptor missile, called Sky Sabre by the British, became operational in the Falklands Islands last year aligned with Saab’s Giraffe surveillance radar.

Further orders for the Common Anti-Air- Modular missile and related systems for the British Army were promised in last year’s defense review but have yet to be agreed with industry.

Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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