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22 May 20. UK nears final stage of Skynet competition. Britain’s Ministry of Defence is about to launch the final stage of a competition to manage ground station capabilities for the armed forces Skynet satellite communications network by early June, say industry executives.
Release of the invitation to negotiate documents to several industry consortia had been expected last week. Although the date appears to have slipped a little, industry executives, who asked to not be identified, say they still expect the MoD to trigger the final stage of the competition “imminently.”
The documents are expected to be issued to selected bidders within the next two weeks. Four bidder groups are in line to be selected for the next stage of negotiations, said people with knowledge of the competition.
The ground control elements of the MoD’s existing Skynet 5 network are currently managed by Airbus Defence & Space as part of a long running private finance initiative deal with the MoD originally awarded in 2003.
Part of that deal is now coming to a close with Airbus’s hold on the ground control management of Skynet finishing in August 2022.
A one year transition period is expected to kick off in 2021, if Airbus has to handover the role to a challenger.
The new competition, for a program known as the service delivery wrap, aims to compete management of the ground control stations until a new generation of communication satellites are launched around 2028. That phase is being called the enduring capability element of the Skynet 6 program.
Together the service delivery wrap and the enduring capability competitions are the main parts of a Skynet 6 program, which is aimed at taking Britain’s satellite communications into a new era at a cost in the vicinity of £6bn ($7.3bn).
A new satellite, known as Skynet 6A, is being acquired from Airbus to ensure communication capabilities are not compromised ahead of the new generation of satellites becoming available later in the decade.
Negotiations on that deal have been dogged by delays.
Airbus were named preferred contractor for Skynet 6A as far back as 2017 but the full contract for that deal has yet to be signed.
The company, Britain’s biggest space contractor, has been working on long lead components of the satellite in order to stay on track. A contract for the manufacturing of long lead items and preliminary design work was signed, but not announced by the MoD and Airbus in March.
A second phase of the Skynet 6A deal covering build, test, launch and deployment is currently working its way through the MoD and wider government approvals process.
A spokesman for Airbus told Defense News “We are working on elements of 6A. We are hoping for a full contract mid-year.”
With one exception, it’s not clear who the runners might be in the final stages of the service delivery wrap competition, as the MoD has insisted all contenders sign a non-disclosure agreement preventing all communication with the media and others.
Competing teams are not even allowed to publicly acknowledge they are interested in bidding.
The exception is a team made up of service provider Serco, satellite operator Inmarsat, IT specialist CGI UK and the U.K. arm of defense giant Lockheed Martin.
It announced its teaming arrangement late last year, just ahead of the MoD bringing the shutters down with its non-disclosure order.
The four companies reinforced their bid credentials May 19, announcing they were forming a team known as Athena, after the Olympian god of war and wisdom, to bid for upcoming U.K. and overseas military and civil space capability programs.
Kevin Craven, the CEO for Serco UK & Europe, called Athena an “exciting new team that will deliver enhanced space-based technologies and services from the U.K. Athena will boost British capabilities, as well as the economy, via growth in this fast-moving, developing sector. The launch of Athena also ensures diversity and choice in the U.K. space sector for future sustainable development.”
There was no mention of Skynet 6 in the Athena announcement. It did however say that Athena will “work on a number of opportunities that leverage space-based technologies, their ground-based systems and end-to-end services as they arise, both in the U.K. and internationally.”
A spokesman for Athena declined to comment on whether they were bidding for the service delivery wrap program, but it’s clear they are a contender given the announcement of their interest last December when industry prequalification questionnaires had to be returned to the MoD.
It remains a matter of speculation for the moment who the other bidders are. Previously Airbus, Babcock, Boeing, BT and Viasat have all been unofficially linked with having an interest in the competition.
Companies Defense News tried to contact either declined to comment or didn’t return calls.
For Serco, who already provide some of the manpower for the current Airbus Skynet ground station operation, the Athena teaming is the latest in a string of announcements over the last few week that have reinforced its position as a space sector services provider here.
In short order the company has secured separate contract extensions to continue to operate and maintain key ballistic missile defense radars at Fylingdales, northern England and as part of the Skynet 5 program providing support to the U.S. Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN) at Oakhanger, southern England.
The U.S. division of the company announced early April it had been awarded a deal to manage and maintain the U.S. Space Force ground-based electro-optical deep space surveillance (GEODSS) system. (Source: Defense News)
22 May 20. Statement by the NATO Secretary General on the Open Skies Treaty. NATO Allies met today to discuss the Open Skies Treaty. We are firmly committed to the preservation of effective international arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation. We agree that all states party to the Open Skies Treaty must fully implement their commitments and obligations. All NATO Allies are in full compliance with all provisions of the Treaty.
Russia has for many years imposed flight restrictions inconsistent with the Treaty, including flight limitations over Kaliningrad, and restricting flights in Russia near its border with Georgia. Russia’s ongoing selective implementation has undermined the Open Skies Treaty. Over many years, including at successive NATO Summits, Allies have called on Russia to return to full compliance.
The United States has declared Russia in violation of the Treaty, and has now announced its intention to withdraw in six months, consistent with Treaty provisions. The US has declared that it may, however, reconsider its withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance. NATO Allies are engaging with Russia to seek Russia’s return to compliance at the earliest date possible.
NATO Allies will continue to uphold, support, and further strengthen arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation, as key elements of our security. Allies also remain open to dialogue with Russia in the NATO-Russia Council on military risk reduction and transparency. (Source: NATO)
20 May 20. UK defence will feel the effects of Brexit more than the EU, says Warsaw Institute. A report from think tank the Warsaw Insitute says that the UK’s defence industry will feel the effects of Brexit more than the European Union and that a hard exit could lead to higher prices and project delays for the UK.
The Poland-based Warsaw Institute found: “The British arms industry will arguably be the biggest loser of Brexit as the new, post-2020 reality may impede many of its contracts with EU nations by increasing prices and delaying project completion – all as possible results of the returning EU-UK ‘hard border’.
“The loss of competitiveness in Europe would force the UK to look for new markets for their weapon systems.”
While the UK and the EU are still negotiating the future relationship, the final agreement will have an effect on how the UK’s Armed Forces and defence industry do business abroad. The report, however, did note that that the overall effects on defence would be ‘minimal’ when compared to other aspects of the UK’s ties with the EU such as ‘economy, travel and cross-border cooperation’.
The UK’s continued commitment to NATO would also help to downplay the effects of Brexit on the continent’s defence and security, as the organisation remains the main ‘security guarantor’ in Europe, rather than the EU.
Brexit’s effect on how trade is conducted between the bloc and the UK could pose problems for both parties, as is will be harder to transport goods between the two. While the UK-EU arms trade is described as ‘minimal’, the report adds: “Multinational companies such as Airbus Defence may be the biggest losers since their ties with UK need to be upheld, regardless of the future shape of the EU-UK relations.”
The potential of tariffs on imports and exports could also make it harder for UK defence companies to do business with the EU as it will inflate the price of goods, allowing competing EU companies to pick up more business on the continent.
The report added: “The expected crisis can be averted either by the free trade agreement in place or, should this option not be possible, a bilateral trade agreement between the UK and several, if not all, EU27 states abolishing tariffs and border checks.
“Should these measures not be in place, many projects run by European companies may be hit with delays or even cancellations.”
The UK’s withdrawal will also have budget ramifications for the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP); the report noted that this will be one of the main impacts on EU defence. The UK suspending contributions to the CSDP could also lead to future interoperability problems between the EU and UK militaries, as the two will no longer share overlapping common goals when it comes to structuring forces around defence policies.
The UK will also miss out on training opportunities offered by future EU peacekeeping missions.
The UK has long resisted the militarisation of the EU and shared defence policy, often citing the existence of NATO as a reason not to tie EU members’ Armed Forces closer together.
The Warsaw Insitute found that the UK’s exit could ease the way for a closer union of the EU’s Armed Forces adding: “Although the European Union is predominantly a political alliance, some of its members, including France and Germany, have openly spoken about creating a ‘European Army’. Despite different attempts having been made over the years, up until this stage these have withered out as mere political declarations. However, Brexit may actually accelerate the creation of a more defence-orientated Union.
“This is because, ever since its accession in 1973, the United Kingdom has been a loud opponent of any attempts to increase the defensive capabilities of the Union, citing the existence of NATO. Now that the UK is gone, the Franco-German duo that has been pushing for a greater militarisation is left without its greatest and strongest opponent, hence allowing for less impeded steps to be taken for these plans to finally be put into action.”
The report adds that due to the ongoing crisis with Covid-19 and the likely future fragility of both the EU and UK’s economies, the two could extend the current transition period in order to allow for more time for negotiations. (Source: army-technology.com)
19 May 20. Covid-19: EATC showcases its pandemic response. The European Air Transport Command (EATC) has showcased its response to date to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, highlighting the contribution of the seven participating nations and more than 170 aircraft to the international relief effort. The A400M has been instrumental in the EATC’s ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic, ferrying emergency medical equipment and personnel, and providing aero medical evacuation services for the seven command nations of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Spain.
A factsheet released by the EATC on 19 May noted some key statistics in the response from the command, which is headquartered at Eindhoven Airbase in the Netherlands and encompasses Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Spain in a collaborative pooling arrangement across the domains of air transport (AT), air-to-air refuelling (AAR), and aero medical evacuation (medevac).
Specifically, the command has flown over 1,700 hours in more than 120 missions since 30 January. These sorties have resulted in more than 230,000 kg of urgent medical supplies being delivered, as well as over 1,500 military personnel and 1,600 civilian passengers repatriated to their home countries.
Furthermore, 82 patients have been medically evacuated. Previously, the EATC had noted that between 27 March and 3 April, it had commanded five intensive-care missions by German A310 and A400M aircraft taking Italian and French patients from Bergamo and Strasbourg to German hospitals, for instance.
Established on 1 September 2010 between France, Germany, and the Benelux countries (Spain and Italy joined in 2014), the EATC uses its in-house Management of European Air Transport (MEAT) tool to exchange equivalent flight hours (EFHs) between the member countries under the Air Transport & Air-to-Air Refuelling and other Exchanges of Services (ATARES) scheme. (Source: Jane’s)
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