Come out fighting

US defence giant Raytheon is on the hunt in Europe for industry partners to join its bid for a NATO radar contract worth more than 3bn Euros (£2bn). The company has come out fighting in an attempt to promote its proposal over that of competitor Northrop Grumman, which has already linked with European heavyweights Thales, EADS and the smaller Galileo Avionica.

The Raytheon-led bid for the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) project includes BAE Systems, and the company announced last week in Brussels that it has also signed a non-disclosure agreement with Alenia Marconi Systems (AMS, the joint venture between Finmeccanica and BAE) to join the consortium.

The NATO contract is to build an airborne radar network that will allow battlefield commanders to cut the time between detecting a target on the ground, such as a missile launcher, and striking it. Both proposals include a fleet of eight aircraft, some of which could be UAVs, carrying a latest-generation radar known as trans-Atlantic co-operative AGS radar (TCAR). The price also includes a network of mobile ground stations.

A design and development contract is to be awarded at the end of next year and the final acquisition deal will be handed out in 2007. Raytheon claims its proposal will cost less and present a lower risk than Northrop Grumman’s plan.

Raytheon has already completed modifications and testing on a Bombardier Global Express business jet for a similar UK programme and proposes using the same platform for the NATO contract. This would substantially reduce development time, risk and cost, according to the company. Northrop Grumman has specified a larger Airbus A321 passenger jet which has never before been configured for military operations.

The smaller Global Express will not have room for a large crew. But Raytheon said the NATO requirement is for a ‘network-centric’ system, which means analysis and ‘exploitation’ of the radar images can be done as easily on the ground. Geoff Telford of Raytheon Systems in the UK said a step-change had been achieved in the bandwidth of the datalink between the aircraft and the ground: ‘This is a new generation of the capability. It is a broadcast bandwidth that matches what we are using at the moment for point-to-point communication.’

Last week, the company said it was ‘aggressively seeking industrial participation team members from all NATO nations’. But despite the signing of AMS and the sound technological principles on which the bid is founded, Raytheon still has a lot of work to do to catch Northrop Grumman on the industry participation front.