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23 Jun 04. A new round of defence spending cuts and contract delays is expected to be announced next week by Chancellor Gordon Brown. Contract requirements expected to be targeted are Nimrod, Support Vehicles and GBAD.

Sources suggest that the MoD may use Farnborough to announce early down-select for the Watchkeeper project prior to any BAFOs to secure the existing budget and to keep the ISD of 2006. Indications are that Thales has the best bid on the table prior to any BAFOs, against the rival Northrop Grumman bid. This would be a sop to the cancellation of the Nimrod project, also expected prior to Farnborough, now that Sir Richard Evans is no longer at BAE (It was his favourite project) and that Boeing has won MMA (BATTLESPACE UPDATE Vol.6 ISSUE 24, 18th June 2004, ‘BOEING TEAM WINS MMA PROGRAMME’), this may explain Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt’s reluctance to open the event!

Alex Cresswell gave BATTLESPACE details of the Thales offering and its partners involvement. (See: THALES SETS OUT ITS WATCHKEEPER STALL BATTLESPACE UPDATE Vol.6 ISSUE 9, March 8th 2004, NORTHROP GRUMMAN SUBMITS WATCHKEEPER BID BATTLESPACE UPDATE Vol.6 ISSUE 11, March 19th 2004)

“Thales would base its UAV business in Britain if it wins the £800m Watchkeeper programme, the biggest in Europe. We have had talks with Elbit with regard to the division of the world markets. The first UAVs would be delivered direct from Elbit to ensure the ISD of 2006 whilst subsequent systems would be built and supported in the UK. Full details of its plans after the bidding date, including where in Britain components such as airframes, engines, sensors and ground stations will be manufactured, the spokesman said. Thales plans to help the UK create a UAV business to support Watchkeeper and beyond for the UK and the export market worth an estimated £1.5bn over the next 10 years.” he said.

Boeing joined the Thales consortium on Monday, just 10 days before two groups are due to present final bids to the MoD on March 18. Boeing will support future U.S.-UK interoperability and do work on scheduled upgrades through the life of the programme. Thales UK and Boeing will work together on the WATCHKEEPER programme. This future work with Boeing will add to the strong interoperability already built into the Thales WATCHKEEPER solution with the assistance of Cubic Corporation; a team member. Interoperability already includes adoption of relevant international standards for imagery transfer and the use of NATO standard datalinks, as used by US forces. Thales, with ISTAR programmes throughout Europe, is ideally placed to ensure that WATCHKEEPER is capable of deployment with all coalition partners from within NATO, Europe and the US.

“The Boeing link will give us crucial access to the expertise on the X-46 UCAV and other US UAV programmes. We expect the evaluation process to be complete in early summer with an announcement of the preferred bidder in mid 2004 after the summer recess,” Cresswell said

Other firms in the Thales bid, which offers both a medium-altitude and high-altitude UAV, include Israel’s Elbit Systems (NasdaqNM:ESLT – News), LogicaCMG (London:LOG.L – News), providing the tactical comms interfaces wioth BOWMAN in particular, Cubic Corp (AMEX:CUB – News), providing the datalinks, Vega Group Plc (London:VEG.L – News), providing the training package and Marshall SV providing the Ground System shelters and specially equipped Supacat HMT vehicles.

Thales UK and Boeing will undertake joint activities to ensure future
interoperability of WATCHKEEPER with US forces at all levels. The
WATCHKEEPER system will operate in and fully integrate with the network enabled environments that both the US (Network Centric Warfare – NCW) and UK (Network Enabled Capability – NEC) armed forces are creating.

Northrop’s partners in Watchkeeper include, General Dynamics

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