C4ISTAR PROGRAMMES BEAR THE BRUNT OF DEFENCE CUTS
By Julian Nettlefold
31 May 09. Michael Smith of the Sunday Times reported that the Ministry of Defence is to axe new spy planes and battlefield intelligence systems to help save £1.5 billion. A total of five programmes are to be cancelled, cut back or postponed. They range from Nimrod surveillance jets to radio eavesdropping equipment and pilotless drones able to spy on the Taliban and fire missiles at them. All are seen as vital to replace the ageing systems on which troops in Afghanistan rely for warning of Taliban movements and numbers. Critics warn that the decision by the MoD to claw back overspending in other areas by slashing intelligence-gathering will lead to the loss of British lives and leave the army almost wholly dependent on the Americans.
The £1.12 billion in equipment cuts were agreed last month by the defence council, chaired by John Hutton, the defence secretary. The decision will exacerbate the impact of a 20% cut in numbers at the Defence Intelligence Staff, which has already been approved.
Only days before Hutton’s decision, Quentin Davies, the defence equipment
minister, had insisted in a speech that claims of a multi-billion-pound “funding gap” paralysing defence procurement were wrong. BATTLESPACE understands that the MoD has issued a quiet moratorium on new spending with a freeze on all new spending to be imposed over the next two months. The lack of new contracts in this month’s Contracts Bulletin proved this point
The highest-profile programme facing a cut is the plan for three new Nimrod MRA4 surveillance aircraft to replace the ageing MR2 version.
The Nimrods’ ability to provide live footage of the Taliban is considered so vital in Afghanistan that flights continued even after one of them blew up, killing all 14 crew, in September 2006. That capability will be axed from the new aircraft.
The cuts include:
– Cancellation of three of the new Nimrod MRA4 surveillance aircraft that will replace the Nimrod MR2, to save £100m.
BATTLESPACE Comment: In the long term will money actually be saved on this project by axing 3 planes? The Boeing Mission Systems is old technology and will almost certainly require an immediate mid-life upgrade whilst the Thales Searchwater radar is of similar age and technology. Nimrod should have been axed years ago and the system replaced by the new Boeing Poseidon and Global Hawk UAV support. The only reason the MoD has saved this project is because BAE were canny enough to sign the support contract for 21 aircraft before the huge problems with the system arose.
– A decision on the replacement for Nimrod R1 radio monitoring version of the Nimrod has been postponed even though the present aircraft go out of service in 2012. It will save £400m.
BATTLESPACE Comment: The most likely replacement for this is the leasing of the ageing Boeing 707-based Rivet Joint aircraft from the U.S.
– The Soothsayer communications intelligence programme, which enables troops on the ground to listen in to enemy communications and has already cost £84m, will also be axed. The MoD confirmed it had “suspended” pending negotiations with Lockheed Martin on how much it would cost to cancel, but informed sources said the ministry hoped to save £120m.
BATTLESPACE Comment: Lockheed Martin would not discuss Soothsayer at its Media Dinner this week. Sources suggest that the Soothsayer technology does not suit current military environments and the vehicle it is mounted on, the Supacat 6×6 does not have an armoured cab. Given the design it would be very difficult to armour this cab without going well over the front axle weight limits.
– Project Eagle, an upgrade to the RAF’s E-3D Awacs aircraft, which was designed to allow the aircraft to co-ordinate data on all enemy movements with its US equivalent will be postponed to save £400m.
BATTLESPACE Comment: This will costs even more in the long run given the age and