2 Oct 02. The announcement regarding the down select of the UK’s Watchkeeper UAV programme, originally slated for early September, is expected to be announced within two weeks. Sources suggested that no defence announcements were expected during Party Conference week and the JSF selection took some people by surprise (See BATTLESPACE ALERT Vol.4 ISSUE 32 September 30th 2002).
The four competing firms, BAE SYSTEMS, Lockheed Martin, Thales and Northrop Grumman are all awaiting the outcome with eagerness. Sources suggest that Northrop Grumman may have pulled in front of Thales leaving it and BAE SYSTEMS as favourites. The decision has been with Ministers for some time due to the political implications of the final choice, with the Israeli content of some of the bids causing possible concern, given the looming Iraq conflict and requirements to station troops and equipment on Arab soil.
The Royal Navy also has a UAV requirement, including possible use of UAVs for the CVF Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control (MASC) requirement which we discuss in our Naval issue next month. The Northrop Fire Scout has attracted considerable Royal Navy interest. On October 1st Northrop Grumman Corporation’s (NYSE: NOC) Integrated Systems sector, prime contractor for the U.S. Navy’s RQ-8A Fire Scout, announced that it has completed work on the first Fire Scout built in the full production configuration.
One reason for the delay is believed to be the creation of an evaluation committee by the MoD. Once the down select has taken place it is believed that the MoD will lease equipment from the two companies selected and carry out trials at a location believed to be Boscombe Down.